Setting the Record Straight: Hitler was NEVER elected
by Mitchel Cohen
On Nov. 22, 2005 -- the 42nd anniversary of the murder of U.S. President John F. Kennedy -- Amy Goodman interviewed Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002-2005, on Democracy Now! The topic was Vice President Cheney's attack on on critics of the Iraq war and his denial that the Bush administration manipulated prewar intelligence to build support for the invasion.
"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made" Wilkerson had previously said. On Democracy Now! he developed his blistering critique of the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis and the "Palace Politics" within the Bush administration. But with the exception of the war against Iraq, he defended U.S. foreign policy, especially that advocated by Colin Powell.
At one point, Amy Goodman questioned Col. Wilkerson on the U.S. government's removal of Pres. Aristide in Haiti, pointing out that Aristide had received the overwhelming majority of votes in Haiti's presidential elections, "certainly ... a higher percentage of the vote than President Bush got in this country." Wilkerson responded by rationalizing the U.S. government's role in removing the elected president of Haiti, claiming that "it prevented further bloodshed."
"Please, don't refer to the percentage of vote as equatable to democracy, as equatable to the kinds of institutions we have reflecting democracy in America. Hitler was elected by popular vote," Wilkerson said.
Part of Wilkerson's point was a good one: Democracy is not simply the vote on election day but it is embedded in the institutions of society. However, instead of taking that to its logical conclusion he then resorted to a standard script, buttressing the U.S. government's claimed right to remove foreign leaders (even as he critiqued the Cheney cabal): It doesn't matter that they were elected; if the election results run contrary to the U.S. government's or corporations' interests, remove them!
Here, however, Amy Goodman missed a key historical beat in an otherwise revealing interview. As this same error repeats itself regularly when people in positions of power argue for curtailment of the democratic rights of the citizenry because the citizens are too stupid, or poor, or uneducated to know what's best for themselves, it is important to set the record straight.
********************************* The fact is, Hitler was NOT elected. He was appointed Chancellor of Germany by German President Paul von Hindenburg. And this is a distinction with a very profound difference, at least insofar as it comes to understanding Democracy historically and in formulating strategy for defeating the fascists who have seized power in the U.S. today.
The politician that the German voters actually elected was NOT Hitler but "lesser evil" monarchist Hindenburg. In the initial 1932 presidential elections Hindenburg, who did not even campaign, defeated Hitler by 49-30 percent, a substantial margin. (The Communist candidate received 13 percent of that vote.) In the runoff, the 85-year-old Hindenburg increased his total vote to 53 percent while the Nazis received 36 percent, with 10 percent going to the Communists.
Given their electoral failure, the Nazis resorted to other means to come to power. Under the so-called socialists running the government of the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic, the vast majority of violence and killing was perpetrated by the Nazi's and the right. The government either refused to prosecute or investigate or else meted out the tiniest sentences or fines. The Nazis took advantage of the economic misery of the country and used systematic violence to create conditions inside Germany that were utterly intolerable, utilizing the economic depression and global capitalist crisis to destabilize the society, scapegoat the Jews, attack Communists, and pressure for Hitler to be appointed as the law and order expert.
The Nazis did elect local politicians to the Reichstag (although never a majority, not even at the height of their power), and under the leadership of Hermann Goring they regularly disrupted proceedings with thuggish behavior, consciously attempting to undermine democracy in Germany. 400,000 stormtroopers under the leadership of SA Chief Ernst Rohm began the systematic policy of terror against the Communists and Jews. ("The people want wholesome dread. They want to fear something. They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive." - Ernst Rohm, later to be betrayed and murdered on Hitler's orders during the Night of the Long Knives, 1934.)
Again, contrary to Wilkerson's (and others') claims, the Nazi Party never received a majority in parliamentary elections. The closest they came before the seizure of power was in May of 1932, when they received 37 percent of the total votes, which translated into 230 seats in the Reichstag. Although this was certainly a sizable minority, it was the fact that it was an ORGANIZED, VIOLENT minority financed and encouraged by German and American capitalists that made all the difference.
But the Nazi movement began to decline, as Germany slowly awakened. The majority of people never voted for Hitler. And in the elections of November 1932, the Nazis lost two million votes and thirty four seats in the Reichstag. In addition, the Nazi Party was in financial disarray.
But German capitalists, including Krupp and I.G. Farben (with support from a powerful sector of U.S. capital headed by DuPonts, Ford, etc.) feared the economic crisis and slow-moving but rising working class, and they pressured Hindenburg. So, despite his intense dislike and prior rejections of Hitler and his movement, and under pressure from a number of key German bankers and industrialists -- and with an enormous and exhausting amount of behind-the-scenes intrigue by German politicians jockeying for power befitting a Shakespearean tragedy -- Hindenburg took a number of fateful steps that led to the Nazi takeover, even as the Nazi movement had begun to decline, and which resonates in the U.S. today.
As correspondent Jeff Melton notes, Hindenburg took the following steps, that enabled the Nazis to come to power. He:
1) appointed Hitler chancellor on January 30, 1933;
2) through his henchman, Franz von Papen, he dissolved the Reichstag (parliament);
3) rescinded the government's ban on Nazi goon squads;
4) banned the Communist Party and its press; and
5) suspended Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, press, assembly, and association.
Thus the German "lesser evil," with the backing of German capitalists, aided and abetted Hitler's seizure of power. The German financiers and industrial capitalists funded the Nazi Party's electoral campaign in March of 1933 to the tune of over 3 million German deutschmarks.
The Nazis campaigned furiously to try to win their first majority and legally give Hitler absolute control. A week before the elections, on February 27, 1933, the Nazis burned down the Reichstag. Hitler blamed it on the Communists in much the same way that Bush et al. blamed 9/11 on secret cells of Moslem extremists armed only with plastic knives, and hundreds were rounded up, many of them murdered. Despite all the orchestrated chaos and media manipulation, however, the majority of people refused to vote for the Nazis and denied Hitler his majority in the Reichstag. The Nazis ended up with 44 per cent of the total vote, 17,277,180. Despite massive propaganda and the brutal crackdown, the other parties held their own. The Center Party got over four million and the Social Democrats over seven million. The Communists lost votes but still got over four million votes.
Hitler and the Nazis had been able to succeed in seizing state power after failing to win an electoral mandate NOT because they had majority popular support, but because they were armed, disciplined, and violent and had developed a mass right-wing movement that successfully intimidated the liberal sectors of German society. They were able to succeed in taking state power because German anti-fascists were not themselves sufficiently armed, organized or united, nor did the leading formations, such as the Communist Party, understand the true dangers of the Nazis until it was too late. As Hitler himself put it: "Only one thing could have stopped our movement -- if our adversaries had understood its principle and, from the very first day, had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement."
[See Wilhelm Reich's "What Is Class Consciousness?" and "The Mass Psychology of Fascism" for great insight into the ways the Communist Party leadership in Germany undermined itself and mimicked the authoritarian framework of the Nazi's, thus offering no effective alternative in the months under review.]
It is interesting that Col. Wilkerson and other imperialists -- whatever their value now in helping to rein in the excesses of the brutality of the Bush regime -- often rationalize their own position by turning to this shibboleth, that Hitler was elected by the people of Germany and that that justifies their own sabotaging or overturning of the results of popular elections when it serves their purpose.
---------------------------------- A more detailed and popular description of the German events -- although weakened by ignoring the critical role of the Communists and on-the-ground resistance movements -- can be found on-line at <http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/dictator.htm>http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/dictator.htm
For Amy Goodman's interview with Wilkerson, see <http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/22/1515236>http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/22/1515236
Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in. ~ Leonard Cohen