On January 30,1933 when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg, both Hindenburg and Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen believed they had Hitler boxed in and could control him. He looked powerless. His Nazi party, the NSDAP, was a minority in Parliament. Hitler was allowed only two Nazi's on the eleven-man cabinet and they were not given key positions. All other cabinet posts were held by conservatives in the German National Peoples Party. It was also agreed that Hitler would never be allowed an audience with Hindenburg unless von Papen was present. How then did Hitler escape their box and attain the absolute power the Nazi revolution demanded?
He had tried seizing power by military coup in the "Beer Hall Putsch" in Munich in 1923. In some future blog I will write the story of that Putsch. If anything in the Hitler's history is capable of producing a laugh it is this abortive coup. It reads like a Keystone Cops script or perhaps a Wibberley novel (The Mouse that Roared). Unfortunately the experience taught Hitler two important lesions he needed to seize power.
1) No revolutionary movement can hope to succeed unless it first makes alliance with the institutions of power. (Not the voters-the institutions.)Hitler spent the years between 1924 and 1933 doing just this. By 1933 he was able to use his alliance with the conservatives and the army to put him in office. What did he offer the conservatives? In his alliance with the conservatives he played the "communist card" promising to rid Germany of the "red menace." The world-wide depression of 1929/1933 had increased the fear of a communist revolution and Hitler played on this fear so skillfully, he made his later imitator, Joseph McCarthy, look like an amateur. In his alliance with the military he promised to defy the Versailles Treaty, expand and re-arm the army and establish an air force. That put the military firmly in his camp and they called for his appointment. Those two alliances got him in the door but did not make him a dictator.
2) Hitler learned he could bring down the democracy from within through "legal" means. As Paul Joseph Goebels wrote: "The National Socialist [Nazi] plan to use this arsenal of democracy to bring it down . . . we are committed to the legality of means, not of ends."
Just five hours after his appointment Hitler called a cabinet meeting and set in motion his first move toward absolute power. Together the Nazis and the Nationalists did not have a majority so Hitler urged that Hindenburg dissolve the Parliament and call for new elections. Some conservatives opposed this and tried to create a ruling alliance by bringing in the Center Party but Hitler politically out maneuvered them and succeeded in getting a new election set for March 5. In his new position as Chancellor, Hitler could use all the powers of the government, the radio and the press to win votes; but he needed money. For that he called on his alliance with the industrialist. What had he promised them? To them he had promised to re-arm the military, thus bringing them huge profits. He promised to take the Ruhr valley back from the French and regain control over its coal and industry. In addition he promised to destroy all labor unions and lift all regulations regarding how industry paid and treated its workers. Not only did industry fill his coffers, they happily set future plans that would include firing any workers who would not join the Nazi party.
Hitler now had the tools to wage a strong campaign, but, despite the propaganda Goebels put out, the Nazis still had a slim chance of winning the majority they needed, at least not in a fair fight. The Social Democratic Party still commanded about 45 percent of the vote. What Hitler did to shift the odds to his favor should be known by every American who loves his freedom. Next time: How to steal an election and destroy a democracy.