During the Crimean War, Austria did not miss the opportunity to temporarily occupy the Danube principalities, even without participating in it alongside the Western powers, against Russia, its powerful rival in the Balkans. She was humiliated in the Paris congress, in which she tried in vain to oppose Italy being talked about, just as she tried in vain, during the Austro-Franco-Piedmontese war of 1859, to drag Prussia into the struggle as well.
The crisis. – The elections of November 5, 1932, which in the thought of President von Hindenburg should have given the possibility of a return, after two and a half years of an exceptional regime, to the constitutional norms, did not lead to any practical results. The formation of a parliamentary majority was excluded. The National Socialist party, abandoned by the conservative elements alarmed by the social and economic content of its program, lost about thirty mandates. On the contrary, the Communists increased the number of their deputies to one hundred, as a result of the ferment caused in the working masses by the reductions in wages authorized by the government of F. von Papen. The other parties almost maintained their old positions.
Under these conditions, von Papen’s cabinet of authority continued to remain in office, opposed by all the major parties with the exception of the German-national fraction of A. Hugenberg. The personal situation of the chancellor, however, appeared precarious, despite the trust repeatedly shown in him by the president of the Reich: the industrialists themselves abandoned him because of his policy of favoring agriculture, while among the masses his unpopularity grew as his links with the Herren-Club, the circle of the Wilhelminian aristocracy and the upper middle class. Nevertheless Hindenburg wanted von Papen to ascertain the possibilities of a cabinet of concentration. All the major parties refused to negotiate and even the Reichsrat, with whose support von Papen hoped to be able to apply a constitutional and electoral reform, he expressed his distrust. Faced with such a plebiscite of hostility, von Papen only had to resign (November 17, 1932).
The fate of the political struggle in Germany now depended on the duel of the right, for the already powerful Social Democracy was reduced, despite the support of the workers’ unions and its complex organization, to passive resistance. Only the conservatives of Hugenberg seriously opposed the pace to the movement of A. Hitler. But they too recognized that it was now impossible to rule against it. It was therefore thought of a maneuver to induce the National Socialists to a policy of compromise: on 21 November the Hindenburg entrusted Hitler with the official task of setting up a cabinet based on a “safe and effective” parliamentary majority. This meant, for the National Socialist leader, the obligation to govern within the limits imposed by the conservatives and the Catholic center.
As winter approached, the economic situation became increasingly severe. A von Papen battle cabinet would have ushered in an era of turmoil with unpredictable outcome. The new man who for an instant seemed to promise a truce and a relaxation of souls was the minister of the Reichswehr, K. von Schleicher. On 2 December he was appointed chancellor with the task of establishing an impartial government to guide the country through the winter. It represented a joke, if not a solution, especially since the moment seemed particularly favorable to this general who declared himself a stranger to the parties and had the armed forces with him (he had kept the Ministry of the Reichswehr in his hands): while the Social Democrats, Catholics, the moderates hailed his advent as a success against the reaction, the National Socialist party, his main opponent, was in crisis. The latest events had in fact shaken the prestige of Hitler and determined an attempt at secession by the triumvir Gregorio Strasser, who was inclined to a policy of collaboration.
Although it differed little from the previous one, the von Schleicher cabinet immediately revoked the von Papen ordinances on wages and granted a political amnesty. The Reichstag, which met on December 6, approved these measures and adjourned. A few days later, this first domestic success was joined by a great foreign policy success. The representatives of the powers in Geneva declared that one of the principles of the Disarmament Conference was to be the equality of rights of Germany (11 December 1932). In this way Germany, which under the government of von Papen, but under the influence of von Schleicher, then Minister of the Reichswehr, had abandoned the Disarmament Conference, could rejoin it with the guarantee that its military order no longer depended on the Treaty of Versailles, but by free negotiation:
But against the general expectation it soon became apparent that the new cabinet had a very fragile consistency. In its very bosom the contrasts rose again. An ordinance on the use of butter in margarine became a question of state, had the virtue of opening a dispute between the ministers and provoking an outcry from all parties. On the other hand, the measures in favor of the working class and von Schleicher’s contacts with the trade unions gave the impression that this general wanted to galvanize democracy. It was beginning to be understood that his plan was to bring the left back to the national terrain in order to get them to collaborate with the Center and with the National Socialist left wing. But it was too vast a plan and based on a wrong calculation: the elections for the Lippe diet, on January 15, they showed that the National Socialist party remained united under Hitler’s orders and was recovering. The polls at the trade unions and at the Center did not arrive at anything concrete, but sharpened the mistrust of conservative circles. Industrialists and agrarians, albeit in fierce controversy with each other, agreed in attacking the “inertia” of the government; von Papen set to work to reconstitute the ancient “front of Harzburg”, the understanding of all the right; and Hugenberg, leader of the German-nationals, declared war on the general guilty of “slipping into currents of socialist-international ideas”. On the eve of the reopening of the Reichstag without having concluded anything, von Schleicher asked the president for full powers, and the rejection of the Hindenburg,
This time the crisis was resolved quickly. Rumors of mene in the Reichswehr, where some generals loyal to von Schleicher apparently planned a pronouncement, prompted the president to break the delay and take the big step: on January 30, 1933 Adolfo Hitler was appointed chancellor of the Reich.
- A. Hitler in power. – In the government of concentration, headed by Hitler, the portfolios were not distributed according to the proportion of the forces represented: von Papen, the trusted man of the president of the Reich, despite not having followed anyone in the country, assumed, in addition to the office of vice-chancellor, the regency of the government of Prussia, which in the previous cabinet was the prerogative of the chancellor; Alfredo Hugenberg, the head of the German nationals, brought together the ministries of economy and agriculture in his hands; Franz Seldte, the president of the “Steel Helmets” association of fighters, became Minister of Labor; General W. von Blomberg took over the leadership of the Reichswehr; the foreign minister, von Neurath, and the ministers of finance and communications were confirmed in the previous cabinet. National Socialists were only Interior Minister W. Frick and HW Göring, Minister without Portfolio, Commissioner for Air Traffic. Al Göring, Hitler’s resolute and audacious lieutenant, was also entrusted with the Prussian Ministry of the Interior.
On February 1, a new twist: the Reichstag was dissolved. For constitutional scruple Hindenburg had wanted the people to take a stand in front of the new government. For Hitler, on the other hand, the appeal to the people meant the possibility of immediately freeing himself from the position of minority created for him by the structure of his cabinet and his capacity as chancellor by presidential investiture. Also for this reason, he rejected the conservatives’ offer to form a single electoral bloc: by confusing his forces with those of his allies, he would have renounced further development of the situation in his favor and would have remained permanently a prisoner of his cabinet. Under the auspices of von Papen, the German-nationals, determined to stand up to him, formed with the “Elmetti”
Cornerstones of Hitler’s electoral program were the reorganization of the German economy over a four-year period, the thorough fight against unemployment, the compulsory labor service for the youth, internal colonization, the defense of the currency, the elimination of Marxism and class struggle; for foreign policy, the revision of the Versailles Treaty, effective disarmament, complete equality of rights and the abolition of the Polish corridor.
Meanwhile, severe measures were taken against the opposition, especially in Prussia, where Minister Göring reorganized the police by strengthening them with units of Brown Shirts and Steel Helmets. On February 28, the Reichstag building was in flames: immediately the “House of Liebknecht”, the Communist headquarters, was occupied by Hitler squads; an ordinance “for the defense against communism” revoked the articles of the constitution relating to freedom of the press, assembly, propaganda and postal secrecy, imposed the death penalty for the crimes of sabotage and armed revolt, authorized the central government to take over in the police departments of regional governments. Communist leaders were arrested en masse.
The elections of March 5 marked the decisive victory of National Socialism. Out of 39 million votes, the Hitler party collected 17,269,529, with an increase of over 5 million compared to the November elections and with a percentage of 44%. The other parties, despite the increase of 4 million voters in the previous elections, did not obtain advantages: the “black-white-red front” collected 3,133,938 votes (8%), the social democrats “7,177,294 (18.8 %), the Center 4,429,319 (11%), the Bavarian People 1,073,815 (2.7%). The Communists managed to gather 4,845,654 (12%) with a loss of one million votes. government was confirmed by the elections for the Diet of Prussia, held on the same day. Overall, the votes of the right added up to 53%. Hitler could declare, the same evening,
The National Socialist Revolution. – Then began the real National Socialist revolution, which overwhelmed not only the last resistance of the opponents – individual attacks and attacks by the Communist, formal protests by the Social Democrats and the Center – but also the government allies themselves, the German-nationals. On the evening of the elections, the municipalities of the major German cities were occupied by the Brownshirts; the Minister of the Interior Frick took over the police powers in the Länder; in Bavaria, an ancient stronghold of Catholic federalism, a commissioner of the Reich was installed; everywhere the opponents of the regime were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
On 21 March, the new Reichstag opened in the Lutheran garrison church in Potsdam, the center of Prussian tradition. With the votes of all the parties, except for the Social Democrat (the Communists had been excluded), a special law was approved which entrusted the Chancellor with full powers for four years: that is, the faculty of enacting laws and repealing articles of the constitution up to 1 April 1937. The President of the Reich was deprived of the right to intervene in legislation; Reichstag and Reichsrat lost all prerogatives and were maintained only as institutions.
One of the first acts of the dictatorship was to give the final blow to federalism. The government of the Länder was already, in the course of the last few weeks, in the hands of Hitler; on 7 April a law sanctioned this state of affairs with the appointment of lieutenants (Reichsstatthalter), with the task of enforcing the directives of the central government in the Länder, of appointing and dismissing the heads and members of regional governments, of calling elections for diets. Hitler, appointed by the President of the Reich as lieutenant for Prussia, took advantage of this to eliminate the influence of the conservatives: the place of von Papen was entrusted to Göring, who retained, alongside the office of president of the ministers of Prussia, that of minister of the ‘Interior, while the Hugenberg who from von Papen held the Prussian ministries of Agriculture and Economy, was not confirmed in these positions.
The dissension between National Socialists and Conservatives quickly reached a critical stage. It was clear that in the new regime, while all the other parties were falling apart, the German-national party could not survive for long. Desertions multiplied from its own ranks. The “party of the economy”, the popular German, the agrarian leagues invited their adherents to join the ranks of the victors. The leader of the Steel Helmets, Seldte, in turn declared himself loyal to Hitler, and inserted his association into the Brownshirt movement. In vain did Hugenberg try to save his party by renaming it in extremis “German-national front”, moreover posing as a defender of the juridical order and individual freedoms. Hitler’s agrarians attacked him on his own ground, in economic policy. Extensive police action hit his party’s youth associations. Now isolated, on 27 June Hugenberg resigned as minister and on the same day his “front” was dissolved. Thus the last remnant of ancient imperial Germany disappeared.
A few days earlier, Social Democracy had been dissolved and banned. The Catholic Center still remained standing. Given the delicate interference of a religious nature, which entailed its elimination, the Hitler government preferred to agree above all with the Vatican. Von Papen, who had already made contact with the curia in early April, concluded without difficulty a concordat with the Holy See, which, by extending to the whole territory of the Reich what had been agreed in the previous concordats concluded by the individual Länder, gave guarantees for religious freedom (July 8, 1933). A few days earlier the Center had dissolved. On July 10, Hitler declared that the revolution was over and that the era of reconstruction was beginning.