GCSE: The Volksgemeinschaft of The Twelve Dark Years Part 1: Gleichschaltung

For any authoritarian leader to consolidate their power in the early days, before unleashing any punitive systems against any who speak out, there is a need to create a level of homogeneity in the people that leader rules. This can be done in two ways – either a system whereby inclusivity is the fulcrum – bringing people into the fold, expanding the populace and acceptance of physical, cultural or belief system differences while bringing the whole populace into the gathered people. The opposite is using exclusivity – laying down set and rigid ground rules for belonging to the national community and morally, then judicially excluding those who do not match those prerequisites of belonging. It was the latter option that was the only possibility for the demands of “Aryan purity” which was the ultimate aim of the NSDAP in the Germany of post January 1933.

The easiest group to turn against was obvious – the ‘Bolshevik threat’ from the USSR was the immediate perceived threat among the Conservative German establishment as well as the Catholic Zentrum and the remaining aristocratic Junker class. The SPD and the KPD (Socialist and Communist parties) were seen to be a particular threat to those of the establishment, but also for the Mittelstand (the middle class bourgeoisie), many of whom had voted for and brought the NSDAP to power in the 1932 elections. Violent clashes between the Communists and the SA were depicted in the press (most of which was sympathetic to anyone who was anti-Communist) as having been instigated by the Left as an attempt at Communist Revolution.

The success of an integrated community was subject to a certain number of demands. Class barriers and differences were inevitably a divisive factor in any social construct; all aspects of the bureaucracy were to be brought under the sway of the new regime, such that all government employees would inevitably be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’; the young needed to be convinced of the rectitude and the advantages of belonging to the NSDAP regime and supporting it, thereby bringing along their perhaps doubting parents and grandparents. The first step was the Gleichschaltung – the coordination of society, something which happened with amazing alacrity:

“almost every aspect of political, social and associational life was affected, at every level from the nation to the village”. (Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, 2004, 381)

The State Governments were seized in March 1933 as the first major step after the Machtergreifung (Seizing of Power) – by January 1934, the federated system had ceased to exist. The leadership of the SPD went into exile in Prague and by July 1933, the last of the political parties were either absorbed into the NSDAP, dissolved of their own accord as the Zentrum, or were destroyed through violence (the KPD). On the 7th April, 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (das Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums) came into existence – this brought the entire Civil Service – the people who, indeed, still run Germany – under the full jurisdiction of the NSDAP hierarchy, depriving Jews of their position as ‘Beamten’ and ensuring that the Party line was toed by all who wished to remain employed.  Between the 30th of January and the 1st of May 1933, some 1,600,000 joined the NSDAP in order to keep their jobs, not necessarily through any particular political agreement with the Nazi policies. This was a wise move on the part of the Nazi rulers and they now controlled the one group on German society who had the ability and potential to confound the consolidation of the Machtergreifung. Such was the influx of members, the Party called a ban on new members on the 1st of May as they could not cope with the numbers. Brown-shirted SA and black-shirted SS freely wandered the streets, an intimidating reminder of the consequences of being in a group which was ‘asozial’ and therefore outside of the Volksgemeinschaft, and hence an unwelcome member.

The RKK (Reichskulturkammer) under the aegis of Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels dominated the social life of the people. Each of the seven sub chambers was occupied with the policing of an individual area of the social structure of Germany. Permits and lists of members of any association were kept and adhered to strictly – this made it easy to exclude the Jewish artistes and those who opposed the Nazi ideology on moral or political grounds. As the Weimar cultural scene had been a safe place for Jews, Left wing and gay artistes, the RKK very quickly managed to identify and alienate these groups.

The Nationalsozialistische Lehrerbund (NSLB) was set up to control the teaching profession – first excluding and removing from the classroom the Jewish teachers, then controlling the whole curriculum and the indoctrination of the young. Many businesses, seeing what was coming, or in order to keep government contracts, went through a process of voluntary Gleichschaltung in order to avoid the governmentally supported forcible pushing through in any business which was moving too slowly in so doing; any business which either could or would not fit in to the Volksgemeinschaft via the Gleichschaltung was forced into ‘voluntary liquidation’.

Success was limited and in many ways immeasurable – Gestapo reports show that the regime realised that many who were new members of the Party were there simply to keep their positions and ensure their economic survival – they even recognised the ‘Beefsteak Nazis’ (brown (NSDAP) on the surface, but blood red (Left-Wing loyalties) under the surface). This was of little import at this point in the process – the important outcome was Gleichschaltung to ensure the implementation of the Volksgemeinschaft and the fear of the consequences of being outside of the National Community. It did achieve its main aim in this first step in that it more or less overcame the threat of any serious nationwide opposition and resistance to the Machtergreifung.

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