Benjamin Carter Hett’s The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic isn’t the first book I have read trying to explain how Hitler came to power, but it’s the best.
Reading it as too many Americans pretend that Biden’s victory saved American democracy was particularly sobering.
What I appreciated most about this book is the author’s willingness to challenge accepted dogma about Hitler’s rise to power. This is an important contribution to our understanding of history, because the traditional narrative makes blaming Germans and particularly communist, socialist, and Germans living in poverty too easy. As always, the accepted history absolves those in power of blame and transfers it entirely on those who regularly challenge the classist, racist authority.
Here are a few things I took from the book that I want to highlight:
- The highest percentage of votes the Nazi Party ever got in a free election was about 37%.
- In the elections of 1932, the Nazi Party took votes from the centrist parties, not the Communist Party.
- In 1929, the predecessor to the communist Combat League Against Fascism was declared illegal by the Weimar Republic.
- In the early’30s, the Combat League Against Fascism ignored the government’s ban and actively fought the nazis.
- When violence between the communists and nazis happened, government, courts, and the media regularly sided with the nazis.
- President Paul Von Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor and effectively gave him control over the government because it was more important to have a right-wing government than it was to exclude the Nazi Party.
The bottomline is Hitler came to power because the right-wing of German politics and the wealthy and middle classes decided they would rather work with nazis and communists.. Sure, the anger of the German people about how they were treated after World War I, the crashing economy, and a host of factors contributed to Hitler’s rise. But in 1932, the second most popular political party in Germany was the Communist Party. The german elite had a choice: they could either work with the communists and try to forge political compromise; or they could embrace nazis and hope to control them.
As we know, they chose the latter and the world paid a horrific price.
Apologists for the Weimar Republic mention that the Nazi Party got the most votes. What they skip over and one of the things the book really explains is how the Weimar government’s plan of economic austerity made people desperate to try something different.
Applying the Book’s Lessons to Today
This is another of the many pieces of history that demonstrates how little has changed in the world. As America battles a pandemic, Democrats are deciding how little help they can get away with providing the American people. While Republicans believe they can accept fascists votes and control them, Democrats are preaching unity with fascists. There isn’t a single leftist in Biden’s cabinet.
Once again, the elite are choosing capitalism and the racist systems of oppression that help institutionalize capitalism over leftist ideals that would actually help struggling people. Obviously, we can’t know how this ends. But we do know the door is wide open for a skilled fascist to use the outright contempt the elite has for the people to walk into the White House.
As always, the motives of the elite aren’t the nonsense they discuss. This isn’t about the soul of America. It isn’t about unifying anyone but them. This is about them holding their power for as long as they can hold it. For the good of humanity, I hope it doesn’t take another world war complete with genocide for enough to realize the world’s governments must work for the people.
It’struly heartbreaking how little we learn from history. Sadly, that stems from the reality that accurate history is hard to find. If you read the Death of Democracy, you will learn much many would do well to consider today.