Politics of Fear - H-Net

Politics of Fear - H-Net

Dirk Blasius. Weimars Ende: Bürgerkrieg und Politik 1930-1933. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005. 188 S. EUR 24.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-525-36279...

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Dirk Blasius. Weimars Ende: Bürgerkrieg und Politik 1930-1933. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005. 188 S. EUR 24.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-525-36279-2. Reviewed by Rüdiger Graf (Institut Universität zu Berlin) Published on H-German (March, 2006)




Politics of Fear Dirk Blasius’s excellent new study of civil war and politics at the end of Weimar Germany has received very favorable reviews in Germany. In particular, historians trying to defend a traditional political or social history against what they perceive as attacks from a new cultural history of politics see Weimars Ende as an example of an old-school history of politics leading to new results.[1] Almost all reviewers of Blasius’s work note their surprise that in only 188 pages, the author manages to shed new light on one of the allegedly best-researched epochs of German history, focusing his analysis on threats of civil war, fights between paramilitary formations and rhetorical uses of these clashes as arguments in political debates.[2]

especially if one considers studies of political violence from Eve Rosenhaft to Pamela E. Swett; analyses of European politics in the interwar period from Ernst Nolte to Andreas Wirsching; and the numerous books on the various paramilitary units such as the Stahlhelm, the Reichsbanner, the Rotfrontkämpferbund and the SA.[4] Blasius refers to only few of these studies, tending rather to cite classical works on Weimar politics by Heinrich August Winkler, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Ernst Rudolf Huber, Hans Mommsen, Eberhard Kolb and Wolfram Pyta. Nevertheless, his analysis is unique in its attempt to explain the destruction of the republic in terms of fears of civil war. On the basis of governmental sources and especially newspapers Blasius reconstructs the debates surrounding the violent conflicts in the election year 1932. Convincingly, he argues that the transition from the Heinrich Brüning cabinet to Franz von Papen’s “cabinet of the barons” constituted the “take-off phase” for the Nazi seizure of power. The abolition of the SA ban by Papen showed that his political strategy–trying to win Hitler as an ally–was basically misconceived (pp. 50-53). This miscalculation proved to be fatal for the Republic, since it gave way to what Heinrich August Winkler has called the most violent election in German history. In summer 1932, according to official statistics, 33 people were killed in Prussia in July and August and 378 were injured in political fights. The most severe incidents (which were widely reported on in the press) were clashes in Ohlau on July 11, the so-called “Bloody Sunday” on July 17 in

At first sight, the research design of Blasius’s study seems to be rather old-fashioned. In recent years, many historians (Peter Fritzsche and Charles Saunders come to mind) have emphasized the need to look past Weimar and to free the republic from the telos of its collapse and the perspective of the subsequent National Socialist dictatorship.[3] Contrary to that, and on the basis of the “stock of orderly historical knowledge” (pp. 7, 9), Blasius wants to re-evaluate Germany’s short path into National Socialism, which he at one point conceptualizes as the “night of German fate” (p. 9). In his account of the final years of the Weimar Republic–or rather of 1932, since he devotes only ten pages to 1930 and 1931–he wants to concentrate on civil war as both a real and an imagined phenomenon. His claim that historiography so far has forgotten the theme of civil war seems rather odd, 1

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Altona and the murder in Potempa (Upper Silesia) on August 9 and 10. Blasius does not offer any new insights into the well-known history of these incidents. Yet, through his nuanced description of the press coverage (he quotes extensively from various newspapers), he reconstructs the bellicose atmosphere of summer 1932. The events were caused by various actors. In the aftermath, however, all participating parties and paramilitary groups claimed to have acted in self-defense and to be the sole guarantors of law and order.

As Heinrich August Winkler pointed out in his review, it remains a little unclear how Schleicher’s transformation from a clever tactician to a risk-taker who misjudged his possibilities could take place in such a short period.[6] Moreover, taking Hindenburg’s justification of his actions (the prevention of a civil war) at face value seems to be a little over-simplified. However, Blasius’s study has the great merit of pointing out that for bourgeois circles, the fear of a civil war was always, above all, the fear of a communist uprising. Thus, the party that was largely responsible for the violence in the streets managed to present itself as a possible savior of law and order.

This “civil-war-situation” (Bürgerkriegslage) constitutes the background for Blasius’a analysis of the “Preußen-Schlag,” the replacement of the Prussian Braun/Severing administration–the last bastion of the Weimar Republic–with a Commissioner of the Reich. In this part of the book and the following examination of the lesser-known lawsuit of Prussia against the Reich before the Staatsgerichtshof, Blasius draws on his own widelyacclaimed study on Carl Schmitt, who served an expert witness for the Reich.[5] In both cases, the civil war was a central reference point within the political rhetoric. Prussian Prime Minister Carl Severing–as well as Chancellor Papen–used the threat of an impending civil war as an argument to justify their positions (pp. 71f.). Again in the lawsuit of October 1932, the memory of the summer incidents was used to legitimize the actions of the Reich.

In Weimars Ende Dirk Blasius succeeds in showing that the civil war was a focal point of politics in the final year of the Weimar Republic. Politicians and journalists made extensive use of the scenario of a civil war in order to justify their actions. With the revolutionary uprisings at the beginning of the republic still in mind, bourgeois observers in particular feared the outbreak of a civil war and used this fear to justify their positions. The analysis of these rhetorical schemes makes the book an excellent contribution to the history of the political culture of Weimar Germany. It enhances our understanding of people’s fears and can therefore help us to explain their actions. However, in several parts and formulations of the book one has the impression that Blasius wants to do The argument of the threatening civil war was de- more. He not only talks about the civil war as a catecisive not only for the destruction of the Prussian gov- gory of experience and interpretation, but also about acernment, however, but also for the fall of the Papen cab- tual fights between different political groups that threatinet after the November elections. As Blasius clearly ened the state’s monopoly of legitimate violence. Even shows, the so-called “war-game Ott” was directed above though these two aspects cannot be analyzed indepenall against an insurrection of a united political left. The dently, as Blasius correctly claims (p. 20), his examinaimagined civil war scenario left such an impression on tion of the contemporary interpretations of political vioPapen that he resigned and Schleicher became chancel- lence is much more thorough and insightful than his aclor. In the most interesting section of his book, Blasius count of the street fights. refutes attempts to consider Kurt von Schleicher’s strategy as directed against the National Socialists, rehabilWith respect to the latter it remains unclear whether itating him as a possible alternative to Hitler (pp. 140, we are supposed to re-conceptualize the final years of the 144). In November and December 1932, Schleicher ap- Weimar Republic as a civil war or to continue to speak of pears to have had a realistic assessment of the dangers a situation resembling a civil war. Contrary to his anof a civil war, using the horror scenario as a political ar- nouncement at the beginning of the book, Blasius does gument. Plans for a state of emergency (Staatsnotstand) not really attempt to determine the degree of political vithat were developed during his chancellorship were pre- olence, and his formulations are very ambivalent in this dominantly directed against a communist uprising. After regard. He speaks of the “civil war of printed words” (p. Paul von Hindenburg refused to break the constitution by 15), the “specter” of a civil war (p. 16), the “threat” and postponing the elections until the end of the year and to the “politics” of civil war (p. 20), the “approaching” civil announce the state of emergency–according to Blasius war (p. 22). Blasius sees the invocation of the civil war as again for fear of a civil war–the plans could later serve a slogan for mobilization and political life as “imprisoned the National Socialists for the establishment of their dic- by the civil war situation” (p.33). He describes a civil war tatorship. “in permanence” (p. 63), an “open” civil war that might 2

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have turned into a “real” civil war (p. 69); considers the civil-war as “in full swing” (p. 68)–and then it is suddenly only a “latent” civil war again (p. 123). The definition of the civil war Blasius offers at the beginning of his book does not offer sufficient means to settle the question as to whether a civil war took place or not. As Patrick Wagner suggested in a review published in H-Soz-u-Kult, despite the high degree of violence at the end of the Weimar Republic there are serious doubts as to whether it could correctly be described as a civil war.[7]

Verkannte Nazis: Dirk Blasius untersucht das Ende der Weimarer Republik,” Süddeutsche Zeitung (November 10, 2005). [3] Peter Fritzsche, “Did Weimar Fail? ” in Journal of Modern History 68 (1996), pp. 629-656; Thomas J. Saunders, “Weimar Germany. Crisis as Normalcy–Trauma as Condition,” in Neue Politische Literatur 45 (2000), pp. 208226.

[4]. Eve Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists? The German Communists and Political Violence 1929-1933 (CamThus, Blasius’s study has its greatest merits not as a bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Pamela E. traditional political or social history of the civil war at Swett, Neighbors and Enemies: The Culture of Radthe end of Weimar Germany, but rather as a cultural hisicalism in Berlin 1929-1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge tory of political discourse connecting the rhetoric of civil University Press, 2004); Ernst Nolte, Der europäiswar to political decision-making and the violence in the streets. Its problems occur where it attempts to conduct che Bürgerkrieg 1917-1945. Nationalsozialismus und a social analysis of street violence or a political analysis Bolschewismus (Frankfurt/Main: Propyläen, 1987); Anof decision-making. It is excellent as an examination of dreas Wirsching, Vom Weltkrieg zum Bürgerkrieg. Polipeople’s fears and their instrumentalization and exploita- tischer Extremismus in Deutschland und Frankreich 19181933/39 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1999); Dirk Schumann, tion by political actors. Written in a clear style, it may Politische Gewalt in der Weimarer Republik. Kampf um die serve as a superb introduction to the final year of Weimar Germany, summarizing older research and integrating it Straße und Furcht vor dem Bürgerkrieg (Cologne: Klarfrom the organizing perspective of the civil war. Quoting text, 2001); Karl Rohe, Das Reichsbanner Schwarz Rot extensively from newspapers, Blasius manages to convey Gold (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1966); Volker Berghahn, Der the atmosphere of the time, the intensity of political con- Stahlhelm. Bund der Frontsoldaten 1918-1935 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1966); Kurt G. P. Schuster, Der Rote Frontkämpferflicts that often overstepped the border into paramilitary bund 1924-1929 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1975); J. M. Diehl, fights. Paramilitary Politics in the Weimar Republic (BloomingNotes ton: University of Indiana Press, 1977); Richard Bessel, Political Violence and the Rise of Nazism: The Stormtroop[1]. See especially the review by Johannes Hürter ers in Eastern Germany 1925-1934 (New Haven: Yale Uniin sehepunkte 5 (2005), http://www.sehepunkte. versity Press, 1984); Peter Longerich, Die braunen Batailhistoricum.net/2005/09/8181.html . lone. Geschichte der SA (Munich: Beck, 1989). Many of [2]. Even Heinrich August Winkler, the most em- these books do not even appears in Blasius’s bibliograinent expert on Weimar’s political development, says phy; Schumann is mistakenly called Schumacher. that he gained new insights reading Blasius, who [5]. Dirk Blasius, Carl Schmitt. Preußischer Staatsrat quotes Winkler extensively at crucial points in his in Hitlers Reich (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, study. See Heinrich August Winkler, “Die Angst 2001). vor dem Bürgerkrieg. Dirk Blasius vermisst den [6]. Winkler, “Die Angst vor dem Bürgerkrieg.” Weg von Weimar zu Hitler neu,” Die Zeit (April 6, 2005). See also the reviews by Patrick Wag[7]. Patrick Wagner, H-Soz-u-Kult, http:// ner, H-Soz-u-Kult, http://hsozukult.geschichte. hsozukult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/ hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/2005-3-020 ; and (less 2005-3-020 . favorably) Gerd Krumeich, “Fleisch vom Fleische. If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german Citation: Rüdiger Graf. Review of Blasius, Dirk, Weimars Ende: Bürgerkrieg und Politik 1930-1933. H-German, H-Net 3

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