To what extent was there a social revolution in Nazi Germany? Was Hitler’s rule reactionary or revolutionary? According to Marx’s definition, a revolution is when a change takes place, referring to the population’s social status, when the worker’s class is able to take part in the political decisions of the country. Although we think that Hitler did cause a revolution in Germany, no real changes were made.
Therefore, we have to compare the Nazi Germany’s social policies and changes with the previous regimes in Germany, including the 2nd Reich and the Weimar Republic, so that we are able to analyse thoroughly if Hitler’s rule was reactionary of revolutionary. The 2nd Reich was in theory a constitutional monarchy, however, it was in reality a authoritarian regime, with only one person in power, the Kaiser. He controlled the foreign policies and the chancellor and government. There was a limited democratic involvement of the middle and lower class, social mobility was extremely limited.
In 1918, the Wilhemine Republic had collapsed due to consequences of the 2nd World War and by 1919 the Weimar Republic had already taken over Germany. The Weimar Republic was a revolutionary government; it introduced a democratic system, which involved a liberal constitution and culture. It gave the population free speech, free assembly and free press and survived many attempted revolutions from reactionary movements. One of the reactionary movements was the Nationalist Worker’s Party, with Adolf Hitler as their leader. Hitler came to power in 1933, with aims to transform Germany in many different ways.
Hitler wanted to make Germany become a classless society a “Volksgemeinschaft, however, no changes would be made with his reactionary policies, especially regarding the Workers. As soon as he came to power, Hitler abolished the trade unions, replacing it by the German Labour Front (DAF) where the workers had strict regulated wages and conditions. The DAF was structured and organized by the government members, which made it simple for the Nazis to control the workers class. The only opportunity for class mobility was through the Nazi organisations.
The employment of the workers class increased, but the real wages only reached 1929 levels in 1938, which caused the working hours to increase and the working conditions to get worse. The government also controlled the workers’ leisure time through the Strength Through Joy movement (KDF). Hitler’s obsession with a classless society was actually had to do with his determination to create a pure Aryan German race. Hitler’s policies towards German Workers actually brought back the same aspects from the 2nd Reich where the Reichstag was controlled by the Junker Class (Land Owning Elites) and there was little class mobility.
These policies towards Workers could be considered reactionary policies of the Nazi Party. Furthermore, was the rule of law, which was revolutionised by the Nazi Party, changing the way people were judged and trialled in Germany. In the 2nd Reich, people were presented to the rule of law despite being very authoritarian. In Nazi Germany, people did not have the right for a reasonable judgement nor a trial. In contradiction to the way the rule of law was dealt was the way in which women were treated in Nazi Germany.
Hitler advised women to take care of their families and stay at home, turning back to the way things were during Wilhemine. Moreover was Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum, which aimed in conquering other countries around the world to expand the German territory. His policy failed as he failed to invest in the country’s industries by keeping his policies regarding industries reactionary instead of revolutionary. Hitler made the workforce in industries unstable and decreased war efforts making it extremely difficult to achieve Lebensraum.
The role of women in Nazi Germany also changed. During the Weimar Republic, women were given many rights, from freedom of speech to freedom of doing what they wanted in society. Hitler was anti-feminist and thought that women should be kept at home, taking care of the house and their families. He wanted to reinstate the role of women to the way it used to be during the 2nd Reich, a conservative society in which women did not have freedom of doing what they wanted and were responsible for their homes and families.
Other reactionary policies were established during Nazism in Germany like the property redistribution. The redistributed property were the properties owned by Jews, which were taken from them and redistributed, but only 1% of the properties were Jewish. Another example was the army, Hitler’s idea was to make it organized and disciplined like the Prussian Army, but no real changes were made. The army had to swore an oath to the Fuhrer, which was similar to what the Kaiser’s army did during the 2nd Reich. Education also followed a reactionary path in the hands of the Fuhrer.
There were defined gender roles, boys would go to school while girls were encouraged to stay at home and learn how to take care of their own houses with their mothers. There was no freedom of ideas, the teaching profession was purged and university students were obliged to do a 3-month labour service. All of these aspects discouraged students to learn and the university attendance dropped by 50% from 1933-1939. Contradicting with these reactionary polices was Hitler’s revolutionary intentions towards the Jews.
The minorities and outsiders were those who were considered unfit to remain within Hitler’s ideal Volksgemienschaft, the Jews were one of these minorities. Anti-Semitism ideas were spreading throughout Europe at the time, especially in Germany, but Hitler took these anti-Semitic ideas to a whole new level. Hitler alleged that the Jews as a biologically inferior race, and that they were contaminating the pure Aryan race, and thus they had to be exterminated. The new policies created by Hitler were increasingly radical, and eventually lead to the Holocaust in World War 2 where an estimation of 6 million Jews were killed.
After looking at the policies which were stipulated by Hitler during Nazi Germany, we can do nothing but argue if there was in fact a social revolution in Germany or not. There were very few revolutionary aspects to the 3rd Reich but many reactionary policies which brought back the authoritarian regime that went on during the 2nd Reich. Although having the perception that Hitler did indeed cause a social revolution in Germany, his ruling was more of a reactionary ruling, where he brought back many of the ways the Kaiser ruled Germany, from bringing back the role of women during the 2nd Reich to the German army.
We can agree with Ian Kershaw (British Historian) which said that there was no social revolution in Germany and that Nazism was “a blanket put over Germany” and can agree with David Schoenbaum (British Historian) which also argued that no social revolution took place in Nazi Germany and that it was a revolution in perception but not in reality. The biggest revolutionary step made by the Nazis was the genocide against the Jews, which certainly marked not only Germany’s history but Europe’s history. The Nazis made no real fundamental changes in Germany, neither socially nor in modernisation.