It is to a certain extent that Nazi consolidation of power in 1933 was due to the use of terror and violence. However the terror and violence was very limited because the Nazi’s weren’t in a strong enough position to exert terror and violence alone. Nazi propaganda against the communists made most Germans fearful of Communism therefore allowing Nazis to consolidate a bit more power through means of terror.
On the other hand the Nazi party’s policy of legality and the threat of communism are to a large extent the underlining most important factor in explaining how the Nazis were able to destroy political opposition and become dominant and consolidate power in 1933.
Hitler’s consolidation of power was legal in the following ways. As the campaign moved towards its climax, one episode strengthened the Nazi hand. On 27th February, the Reichstag building was set on fire and a Dutch Communist Van der Lubbe was arrested.
At the time it was believed it was a Nazi plot to support the claims of the Communist plot, and thereby to justify Nazi repression.
On the next day, Hindenburg signed, “The Decree for the protection of people and State”. In a few short clauses most civil and political liberties were suspended and the power of central government was strengthened. However, what became disappointing was that Hitler could claim a majority in the new Reichstag only with the help of the 52 seats won by the Nationalists.
It was a political blow and showed that his power wasn’t consolidated yet, but the fact this law was passed gave legal justification for the development of the regime. Despite this constitutional hurdle, Hitler decided to propose to the new Reichstag an Enabling Law that would effectively do away with parliamentary procedure and legislation and which would transfer full powers to the Chancellor and his government for 4 years. In this way, dictatorship would be grounded in legality.
A further problem was that the momentum built up within the lower ranks of the Nazi Party was proving increasingly difficult for Hitler to contain in the regional areas. Members were taking the law into their own hands and this gave the impression of a revolution from below. The Enabling Law was the constitutional foundation stone of the Third Reich. In purely legal terms the Weimar Constitution was not dissolved in 1945, and the Enabling Law provided a legal basis for the dictatorship which evolved from 1933.
Gleichschaltung could never allow the existence of other political parties. Nazism openly rejected democracy and any concessions to alternative opinions. Instead, it aspired to establish authoritarian rule within a one party state. The regions had a very strong tradition in Germany. This contradicted Nazi ideas to create a fully unified country. Nazi activists had already exploited the climate of February-March 1933 to intimidate opponents and to infiltrate federal governments.
A law of March 1933 dissolved regional parliaments and reformed them with acceptable majorities, allowing the Nazis to dominate regional state governments. In January 1934, regional parliaments were abolished. The governments of all the states were subordinated. Despite all this, the Nazis did employ terror as part of consolidation. They used violence, increasingly without legal restriction. A developing crisis came ahead in April 1934 when it became apparent that President Hindenburg didn’t have much longer to live.
The implications of this were profound as Hitler wanted to assume the presidency without opposition. He certainly didn’t want a contested election, and had no sympathy for those who wanted to restore the monarchy. The support of the army had become the key to survival of Hitlers regime in the short term. Hitler recognized he had to satisfy the conservative forces, and that meant destroying the power of the SA immediately. On 30th June 1934, known as the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler eliminated the SA as a political and military force.
Rohm and the main leaders of the SA were shot by members of the SS, although weapons and transport were provided by the army. There was no resistance of any substance. In addition, various old scores were settled, Schleicher and Strasser were also killed and it was estimated that around 200 people were murdered. This shows how terror firmly implemented Hitlers position at this point. In one bloody action, Hitler overcame the radical left in his own party, and neutralized the conservative right of traditional Germany. By the Summer of 1934, the effects of the purge could clearly be seen.
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