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Hitler Essay Outline

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To what extend did Hitler establish a totalitarian state?

Stepan Nazaretyan

In this essay I am going to analyse whether Hitler established a totalitarian state and if he did, then to what extend the Third Reich was totalitarian. I will look at the period when the Third Reich existed under Hitler; these are the years between 1933, when Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany and 1945, when he committed a suicide and the Third Reich collapsed. I am going to consider Hitler's actions against the criteria of a totalitarian state, suggested by Carl Friedrich in his book "Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy". According to him, a totalitarian state must have the following seven characteristics: dictatorship, cult, ideology, terror, control of media and cultural activity, propaganda and centralized economy. The first feature of a totalitarian state - a single-party dictatorship - was achieved by Hitler in the first two years after he was appointed as Chancellor. The process of Gleichschaltung or coordination allowed Hitler to become the supreme leader of the Nazi state. After Hitler's attempt to get the majority of the votes in 1933 elections failed, he made the Reichstag (under the pressure and terror of his Storm Troopers) to vote for the "enabling will" which allowed him to change the Constitution. The first step against his political rivals was the establishment of Dachau, the first concentration camp for political prisoners. This shows that Hitler certainly was not willing to collaborate with other parties, as Hitler famously said in one of his speeches: "Is it truly German to have 16 parties in the Reichstag?" In June, Social Democrats were abolished, whilst other parties dissolved themselves and the final step to secure the one-party state was the passing of the "Law against the Formation of New Parties". On one hand, all the evidence points to the fact that by 14th of July 1933 Hitler established a one-party state. Step-by-step other parties were either abolished or dissolved, so these seem to be an undeniable fact that Hitler established a single-party state. However some other arguments also must be taken into account. Hitler had to go for compromises with some other leading forces in the German society. The concordat signed between the Nazi party and the Catholic Church points to the fact, that Hitler could not outlaw all structures and had to go to a compromise with them. Another factor was the enemy within the Nazi party. Though NSDAP became the only legal party, this did not stop a split inside it. That's the reason why in August 1934, Hitler ordered the murder of senior members of SA, which became known as the "Night of Long Knives". All these factors point to the fact, that on official level Hitler established a single-party state, however there was a split inside the Nazi party itself. Another aspect of a totalitarian state is a cult of a leader, in this case of Hitler. After the death of Hindenburg, Hitler combined his position in Party and in the Government, essentially dissolving the office of president. He combined the position of a Chancellor and a President into Fuhrer who had "all sovereign power of the Reich". Then Hitler made a greeting "Heil Hitler!" an obligatory, so soon many Germans started to look at Hitler as a god-like figure. Robert Ley, a politician in Nazi party, illustrates this, by saying: "Yes, you who called us godless, we found our faith in Adolf Hitler and through him found God once again". This clearly shows what a strong personality cult was achieved by Hitler. According, to Ian Kershaw, Germans became victims to an "uncritical deification of Hitler". They believed that for any misfortunes that happened it was not Hitler to blame, but the "corrupt Nazi party". Though, most of the German people were influenced by Hitler's cult, there still were people who resisted it. For example, Catholic clergy publicized another form of greeting: "Gruess

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The actions of president Hindenburg were the most important reason why Hitler came to power in 1933. Discuss.

From 1928 to 1932, the Nazi Party went from 12 seats in the Reichstag to 230. This was due to a number of factors including the Wall Street crash and the depression that followed, the weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution and Hitler’s public speaking skills. The actions of President Hindenburg and the crippling nature of Article 48 were certainly important factors in assisting Hitler and his rise to power but perhaps not the most important.

One of the main factors in Hitler’s rise to power was the Economic Depression of 1929.  After the Wall Street crash, the U.S. called in its loans to Germany thus increasing both poverty and unemployment levels. The Weimar government did not understand how to reverse the situation so the general public became angry and lost confidence in the relatively new democratic system. During a depression, political trends become extremist and so the Nazis flourished; Hitler offered both a scapegoat and himself as a strong leader to look up to. The depression gave Hitler the edge he needed to gain ninety-five[1] seats in the Reichstag and ultimately progress from the leader of a minority party to the Dictator of the Third Reich.

The Depression also drew attention to the weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution; as poverty and unemployment increased, respect for the democratic system drastically decreased. The German population did not want to be governed by a democracy as it was such a governing body that signed the Treaty of Versailles. Hatred for this document was still rife in Germany and so Hitler, who openly detested the Treaty, became the obvious choice. As well as this, the problems of 1923 were still fresh in people’s minds and no one wanted a repeat. Hitler’s opponents failed to cooperate and so failed to deal with the depression and this only made the Nazi party seem like a more attractive option. Although the Weimar constitution definitely had its weaknesses, these were only emphasised and so utilised by Hitler due to the great depression and might not have seemed so severe in a different political climate.

It was not just the weaknesses of Hitler’s opponents that helped him in his rise to power, but also his own strengths. Otto Straser, a Nazi who did not like Hitler as a person, described Hitler as “one of the greatest speakers of the century”. Because Straser “disliked” Hitler, it seems more likely that any positive critique of him would be reliable, however Staser was a Nazi and so more likely to agree with what Hitler was saying.  As well as Hitler’s oratorical skills, the Nazis had an excellent propaganda scheme. Goeballs targeted specific groups of society with different slogans and policies to win their support and this worked extremely well.   Hitler said that “propaganda must confine itself to a very few points and repeat itself endlessly”[2] and this practise is seen in Nazi posters from the time. Another important strength of the Nazis was the funding they received from rich, communist-fearing businessmen. This money allowed the Nazis to produce propaganda, control the media and run campaigns among other things.

It was this propaganda that allowed Hitler to ‘legally’ become leader of Germany. In the elections of November 1932 the Nazis failed to get a majority of seats in the Reichstag and only won 196 seats. The Chancellor, von Papen, was struggling to get enough support to pass laws and so Hindenburg was forced to use Article 48. After a brief Chancellorship by Schliecher, von Papen and Hindenburg offered Hitler the post of vice-Chancellor if he promised to support them. However, Hitler refused and he demanded to be made Chancellor. Because of the rapid decline in Nazi seats, Hindenburg and von Papen made the crucial mistake of thinking they could control Hitler. In fact, Hitler managed to get himself the position of Chancellor without staging a Revolution. This mean that nobody could do anything to stop him as everything he did was allowed by the law. As Hitler planned when he said “we shall have to hold our noses and enter the Reichstag against the Catholic and Marxist deputies” during his brief time in prison, he had played the Weimar Republic at its own game and won.

Although Hindenburg’s actions were definitely crucial to Hitler’s rise to power, his foolishness was often matched by von Papen’s. This is demonstrated by von Papen’s quote: “Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in the corner that he’ll squeak,” Having said that, some of the reasons that Hindenburg’s decisions were so terrible were completely out of his control such as the Wall Street crash. As well as this, Hitler’s speaking skills certainly played some part in his rise to power as did the propaganda and censorship that made people believe that Hitler was the right choice. Hitler’s rise to power cannot be accredited to one event, but a mixture of factors including the use of Nazi storm troopers against his opponents. Apart from this illegal strategy, Hitler rose to power by using the flaws in the law, events outside his control and his own skill to his great advantage.


[1] Nazi seats in May 1928: 12; Nazi seats in September 1930: 107

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