Saturday, April 16, 2005

Dial "C" for "Compromise"

The whole "compromise" debate going on recently (summarized ably here) reminded me of the real compromise that put Hitler into power:

Schleicher, the mastermind behind many intrigues around the president, had always hoped to reduce Nazi influence by letting the Nazis share government responsibility. The enormous burden of political responsibility, Schleicher and many others believed, would tame the Nazis and split the party into a moderate and radical wing. Several times Schleicher tried to convince Hitler or somebody else to join the government under a non-Nazi as chancellor. Hitler always refused and insisted on being given the chancellorship himself. Papen planned for a coup d'état (dissolution of the Reichstag without setting a date for reelection; army rule), but Schleicher rejected this idea because he feared a Polish attack on Germany.

In December 1932 and January 1933 Schleicher, as the new chancellor, undertook some last efforts to split the NSDAP. He suddenly realized the danger of Hitler's chancellorship, even though he had been working for so long to get the Nazis into the government. But whatever Schleicher did, he became a powerless person in January. Behind his back a large intrigue led by Papen and some prominent German industrialists undermined Hindenburg's confidence in Schleicher. Without the president's emergency decrees, Schleicher stood no chance of success in front of an overwhelmingly hostile Reichstag. Papen had his way. On 30 January 1933 Hindenburg appointed a new cabinet with Hitler as chancellor, another Nazi as Interior Minister, and a third Nazi, Hermann Göring, as minister without portfolio. The nine other ministers all did not belong to the NSDAP, and Papen as vice-chancellor was confident that it would be possible to push Hitler to the sidelines within a few weeks. ("We will push Hitler into the corner until he squeaks.")

Papen's reasoning was profoundly wrong. To let the Nazis share power in order to tame them and to split their movement was foolhardy. First, the Nazis' electoral rise had been stopped at the Reichstag elections in November 1932. Shortly thereafter the SPD newspaper wrote with exaggerated but not unjustified pride: "It will be the everlasting merit of social democracy to have kept German fascism from power until it began to decline in popular favor. The decline will hardly be less rapid than its rise has been." Disputes within the NSDAP and between the SA and the party showed that the Nazi movement might break up if it was held in opposition for much longer. Hitler grew increasingly desperate, since neither his bid for the presidency in early 1932 nor his repeated attempts to become chancellor had succeeded. Hindenburg for a long time was unimpressed with Hitler and refused to appoint him, a mere common soldier, chancellor. There was no need for Papen and Hindenburg to make Hitler chancellor in order to break the momentum of his movement.

The author of the paragraphs above , Raffael Scheck, appears to be a typical acanemic leftie, but his expertise -is- in German right-wing politics of the period and what he says correlates with other histories of the time. The truth is that, with a little moral courage and disinclination to compromise, Germany might have been spared Naziism, a fact lost on the "compromise clan."

But, then again, most historical facts ARE lost on them.

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