Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Fascist history 101.

Most people naturally assume  that Hitler and the Nazis came to power in some sort of violent coup d'etat. But today is in fact the anniversary of that day in 1933 when the parliament and head-of-state passed an enabling act that gave Hitler - the prime minister -  powers to rule without parliament for four years. And so dictatorship was established with at least a veneer of constitutional legitimacy.

True - this constitutional process needed some stage management: A fire in the parliament building, the work of the Nazis but pinned on the Communists, gave the excuse for a police  round-up  that managed to get the most effective opposition leaders taken out  a few weeks before the election.

Even then the election didn't return the Nazis as a majority - they depended on a coalition with conservative nationalists. But coalition wasn't an acceptable outcome for the Nazis, so they sought an Enabling Act that would dispense with the hassle of parliamentary democracy altogether. They counted (correctly) on the parties of the middle and ruling classes being willing to trade democracy for economic stability and the removal of left-wing opposition.

And most significantly they counted on Catholic politicians' willingness to trade democracy for a bulwark against 'god-less' socialism. It was the votes of the Catholic Centre Party, under the leadership of a priest, Monseigneur Ludwig Kaas, that ended up giving Hitler the two-thirds majority he needed to be voted dictator. His close links to Pius XII have since  fueled conspiracy theories that the Nazis offered a deal similar to that given by the Italian Fascists to the Vatican, a guarantee of security and non-interference for  the Catholic Church.

Of course with the Communist members of parliament either imprisoned or in hiding, only the Socialist members were left to vote against the enabling act. A few weeks later their party was also banned and many of their MPs were sent to the camps.

There's no denying that the Nazis' strength grew on a tide of brutal political violence in the street -   but it's worth remembering that they actually came to power through back-room deals with respectable politicians  and clergymen who felt that democracy was an inconvenient luxury that couldn't be afforded...

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