What can we learn from history? Can we see a percursor to the future, or at least a warning? Many people remember their history lessons on what things happened after Hitler's dictatorship became violent. Let's look at the beggining together, that which we all understand we can stand together against it ever happening again.
In Germany democracy eventually lapsed in the early 1930s, leading to the ascent of the NSDAP and Adolf Hitler in 1933. Although the constitution of 1919 was never officially repealed, the legal measures taken by the Nazi government in February and March 1933, commonly known as Gleichschaltung ("coordination") meant that the government could legislate contrary to the constitution. The constitution became irrelevant, therefore 1933 is usually seen as the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of Hitler's "Third Reich".
Let's look at the Weimar Republic that preceded the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. From November 1918 through January 1919, Germany was governed by the Council of People's Commissioners. It issued a large number of decrees which were confined to certain spheres: the eight-hour workday, domestic labour reform, agricultural labour reform, right of civil-service associations, local municipality social welfare relief (split between Reich and States) and important national health insurance, re-instatement of demobilised workers, protection from arbitrary dismissal with appeal as a right, regulated wage agreement, and universal suffrage from 20 years of age in all types of elections—local and national.
To ensure that his fledgling government was able to maintain control over the country, Friedrich Ebert, President of the Weimar Republic, made an agreement with the OHL (supreme army command), now led by General Wilhelm Groener. The 'Ebert-Groener pact' stipulated that the government would not attempt to reform the army so long as the army swore to protect the state. On the one hand, this agreement symbolised the acceptance of the new government by the military, assuaging concern among the middle classes; on the other hand, it was thought contrary to working-class interests by left wing social democrats and communists, and was also opposed by the far right who believed democracy would make Germany weaker. The new Reichswehr armed forces, limited by the Treaty of Versailles to 100,000 army soldiers and 15,000 sailors, remained fully under the control of the German officer class despite its nominal re-organisation. Today we are hearing of a National Police force as well trained and well equiped as the U.S. Military.
In January, the Spartacist League and others in the streets of Berlin made more armed attempts to establish communism, known as the Spartacist uprising. Those attempts were put down by paramilitary Freikorps units consisting of volunteer soldiers. Bloody street fights culminated in the beating and shooting deaths of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht after their arrests on 15 January. With the affirmation of Ebert, those responsible were not tried before a court martial, leading to lenient sentences, which made Ebert unpopular among radical leftists.
The National Assembly elections took place 19 January 1919. In this time, the radical left-wing parties, including the USPD and KPD, were barely able to get themselves organized, leading to a solid majority of seats for the MSPD moderate forces. To avoid the ongoing fights in Berlin, the National Assembly convened in the city of Weimar, giving the future Republic its unofficial name. The Weimar Constitution created a republic under a semi-presidential system with the Reichstag elected by proportional representation. The democratic parties obtained a solid 80% of the vote.
The permanent economic crisis was a result of lost pre-war industrial exports, the loss of supplies in raw materials and foodstuffs from Alsace-Lorraine, Polish districts and the colonies, along with worsening debt balances and reparations payments. Military-industrial activity had almost ceased, although controlled demobilisation kept unemployment at around one million.
German workers were exhausted, physically impaired and discouraged. Millions were disenchanted and hoping for a new era. Meanwhile the currency depreciated
By 1923, the Republic claimed it could no longer afford the reparations payments required by the Versailles Treaty, and the government defaulted on some payments.
Since striking workers, striking the mines they worked, were paid benefits by the state, much additional currency was printed, fueling a period of hyperinflation. The 1920s German inflation started when Germany had no goods with which to trade. The government printed money to deal with the crisis; this allowed Germany to pay war loans and reparations with worthless marks, and helped formerly great industrialists to pay back their own loans. This also led to pay raises for workers and for businessmen who wanted to profit from it. Circulation of money rocketed, and soon the Germans discovered their money was worthless. The value of the Papiermark had declined from 4.2 per US dollar at the outbreak of World War I to 1 million per dollar by August 1923. In October of 1923 they started printing and distributing 1 Million Mark notes. This gave the Republic's opponents something else to criticise it for. On 15 November 1923, a new currency, the Rentenmark, was introduced at the rate of 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) Papiermark for 1 Rentenmark, an action known as a monetary reset. At that time, 1 U.S. dollar was equal to 4.2 Rentenmark. Reparation payments resumed, and the Ruhr was returned to Germany under the Locarno Pact, which defined a border between Germany, France and Belgium.
The last years of the Weimar Republic were stamped by even more political instability than in the previous years. The administrations of Chancellors Brüning, Papen, Schleicher and Hitler (from 30 January to 23 March 1933) governed not through parliament but through presidential decree. This meant that they used the President's power to rule without consulting the Reichstag (the German parliament). The finance expert Heinrich Brüning was appointed as successor of Chancellor Müller by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg on 29 March 1930, after months of political lobbying by General Kurt von Schleicher on behalf of the military. The new government was expected to lead a political shift towards conservatism, based on the emergency powers granted to the Reichspräsident by the constitution, since it had no majority support in the Reichstag. Does this sound familiar to anyone???
The bulk of German capitalists and land-owners originally supported the conservative experiment: not from any personal liking for Brüning, but believing the conservatives would best serve their interests. But as the mass of the working class and middle classes turned against Brüning, more of the great capitalists and landowners declared themselves in favour of his opponents - Hitler and Hugenberg. By late 1931, conservatism as a movement was dead, and the time was coming when Hindenburg and the Reichswehr would drop Brüning and come to terms with Hugenberg and Hitler. Hindenburg himself was no less a supporter of an anti-democratic counter-revolution represented by Hugenberg and Hitler.
On 30 May 1932, Brüning resigned after no longer having Hindenburg's support. Five weeks earlier, Hindenburg had been re-elected Reichspräsident with Brüning's active support, running against Hitler (the president was directly elected by the people while the Reichskanzler was not).
Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor on the morning of 30 January 1933 in what some observers later described as a brief and indifferent ceremony. By early February, a mere week after Hitler's assumption of the chancellorship, the government had begun to clamp down on the opposition. Meetings of the opposition parties were banned and even some of the moderate parties found their members threatened and assaulted. Measures with an appearance of legality suppressed the Communist Party in mid-February and included the plainly illegal arrests of Reichstag deputies.
The Reichstag Fire on 27 February was blamed by Hitler's government on the Communists. Hitler used the ensuing state of emergency to obtain the assent of President von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree the following day. The decree invoked Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution and "indefinitely suspended" a number of constitutional protections of civil liberties, allowing the Nazi government to take swift action against political meetings, arresting and killing the Communists. Have you heard that our own White House now has a defined "enemies list" and the Dept. of Homeland Security has classifide those who believe in the Bill of Rights are now to be considered a higher level threat to the State than any Muslim Terrorist?
Hitler and the Nazis exploited the German state's broadcasting and aviation facilities in a massive attempt to sway the electorate, but this election yielded a scant majority of 16 seats for the coalition. At the Reichstag elections, which took place on 5 March, the NSDAP obtained 17 million votes. The Communist, Social Democrat and Catholic Centre votes stood firm. This was the last multi-party election until the end of the Third Reich twelve years later and the last all-German election for fifty-seven years. Our new Diversity Czar is citing his desire to replicate Chavez's crack down on any media outlets that offer conservative broadcasting. If any news media outlet doesn't go with the "party line" they are punished and lose access in our current White House.
Hitler addressed disparate interest groups, stressing the necessity for a definitive solution to the perpetual instability of the Weimar Republic. He now blamed Germany's problems on the Communists, even threatening their lives on 3 March. Former Chancellor Heinrich Brüning proclaimed that his Centre Party would resist any constitutional change and appealed to the President for an investigation of the Reichstag fire. Hitler's successful plan was to induce what remained of the now Communist-depleted Reichstag to grant him, and the Government, the authority to issue decrees with the force of law. The hitherto Presidential Dictatorship hereby was to give itself a new legal form. Of course our president would never blame past administrations for current problems.... would he?
On 15 March the first cabinet meeting was attended by the two coalition parties, representing a minority in the Reichstag: The Nazis and the DNVP led by Alfred Hugenberg (196 + 52 seats). According to the Nuremberg Trials this cabinet meeting's first order of business was how at last to achieve the complete counter-revolution by means of the constitutionally-allowed Enabling Act, requiring two-thirds parliamentary majority. This Act would, and did, lead Hitler and the NSDAP toward his goal of unfettered dictatorial powers.
Hitler abandoned earlier pretence at calm statesmanship and delivered a characteristic screaming diatribe, promising to exterminate all Communists in Germany and threatening the Social Democrats as well. He did not even want their support for the bill. "Germany will become free, but not through you," he shouted. Almost sounds like we don't want to "hear from those who caused the mess." Didn't I just hear that about a month ago?
Meanwhile Hitler's promised written guarantee to Monsignor Kaas was being typed up, it was asserted to Kaas, and thereby Kaas was persuaded to silently deliver the Centre bloc's votes for the Enabling Act anyway. The Act—formally and rather pretentiously titled the "Act for the Removal of Distress from People and Reich" -- was passed by a vote of 441 to 94. Only the SPD had voted against the Act. Every other member of the Reichstag, whether from the largest or the smallest party, voted in favor of the Act. It went into effect the following day, March 2.
In the German Weimar Republic, an Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz in German) was a law passed by the Reichstag with a two-thirds majority, by which the government was authorized to legislate without the consent of the Reichstag. These special powers would remain in effect for the specified time. This is to be distinguished from the provisions of Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which allowed the President to legislate by decree in times of emergency, subject to the veto of the Reichstag. An Enabling Act was supposed to be used only in times of extreme emergency. Are we not hearing a lot about special emergency powers wanted for the White House to restrict Internet access, preemptive arrest without Miranda, without charges, without trails, and with indefinite lengths of imprisonment. I saw on Rachel Maddow's show Obama standing in front of the Constitution making this request.
Only two Enabling Acts were ever passed:
.The first Enabling Act was in force in 1923-24, when the government used an Enabling Act to combat hyperinflation.
.The second Enabling Act, passed on March 23, 1933, was the second stepping-stone after the Reichstag Fire Decree through which Adolf Hitler obtained dictatorial powers using largely legal means. The formal name of the Enabling Act was Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich ("Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the State").
It carried a four-year sunset clause (and would also have lost force should another government have been appointed) but was renewed in 1937, 1941 and 1944.
In contrast to the Enabling Act of 1923, this Act covered changes to the constitution, excepting only the existence of the Reichstag, the Reichsrat and the office of President.
I am not accusing the Obama administration of repeating this history. However, there are so many parallels that We the People need to at least keep our eyes wide open, and be at the ready to protest the possible loss of our liberties and freedoms.