The trouble with leaving politicians to play, as was suggested the German people did, at the end of the last article, is that they never know when to stop. Any ‘normal’ politician has only one priority, his personal ambition. When the politician is a Hitler, then there will be no bounds to what he wants. And Hitler very quickly showed that he had the ability to realize his own particular ambitions.
Not that this was immediately obvious to all and sundry, but he knew it. When the First World War ended, he and millions of Germans felt that the Armistice was a betrayal – but they blamed the wrong people. It was in fact the Army officer class, the all powerful Junkers, who told the Kaiser and the Social Democrat government that had the nominal authority, that the actual fighting troops could not carry on for lack of logistics, and lack of the will to fight any longer. These facts were not passed on to the German people, and they also did not know that the senior generals maneuvred the government into signing the Armistice and in declaring the Weimar Republic. The whole matter was the usual sordid political shifting of blame but Hitler did not guess what actually happened. From what he could see and what he sensed he made a resolution; as he wrote in Mein Kampf; “My own fate became known to me. I decided to go into politics.” (It is as well to repeat here that most of what we know about Hitler up until he joined the German Workers’ Party in September 1919 is what he chose to write in Mein Kampf; where he decided to omit something or to gloss something, we have usually no way of knowing this, or of verifying what he does tell us.)
Having made his decision, Hitler did not know how he was going to get into politics. He returned to Munich in November 1918, still in the Army, who very soon assigned him to its Political Department to keep an eye on dissident political groups. While in Vienna before the war he had closely observed the Social Democrat party’s activities and had formulated some ideas of his own. Now, the first time he went to a meeting of the German Workers’ Party, he found himself haranguing those attending, about 25 people, on the evils of the Jews. In the course of time, Hitler was to meet several people who would be catalysts for some action or the other. The leader of this Party was the first such one. His name was Anton Drexler and, as Hitler was leaving the meeting, he gave him a booklet he had written. When Hitler read this the next day he found that many of the ideas were ones which he had put together in his own mind, notably the building of a strongly nationalist party and that the membership should based on the working classes. Whatever the attraction of this small group, and Hitler had no idea how it would develop, within a few days he became the seventh member of the committee.
The men who are known as born leaders have one overriding characteristic: they know that they are leaders. And the overriding characteristic of the easily led is to follow the born leader. Hitler set about proving these propositions in no uncertain fashion. Within months he was the party organizer, its propagandist and, no matter the scheduled speaker, it was he who usually ended each meeting with a rabble-rousing speech. There is really no way of telling now just what it was that made him a demagogue but follow him the people did. Listening to recordings of later speeches and even allowing for the fact that one does not speak German, the effect now is more of a monotonous delivery in quite a high pitched voice, with crescendos somewhat higher. Observers have said that it was his blazing conviction, the light in his intense slightly protuberant eyes that swayed crowds, that and the calls for immediate action to right this or that wrong that often formed the perorations. Whatever the cause the effect was to send away aroused men, passing on Hitler’s words and bringing in increasing crowds.
Part of being a born leader must be being a born politician, but there still has to be learnt the methods of achieving power. From his observation of the Social Democrats in Vienna, Hitler says that he found three strategies essential for successful government, and here he meant a successful dictatorship. The first is the necessity of creating a mass movement to bring the party to power; the second, the use of propaganda in maintaining it there; and, third, the use of terror to ensure the ‘loyalty’ of the people thereafter (although no one could accuse any Social Democrat party then, or since, of using the last). Hitler carried out the first two to such an effect that within 18 months he found the necessity of introducing the third had become urgent. Party membership was growing and the meetings were becoming increasingly rowdy but they were still a local Munich phenomenon, just another among many trying for the top. It was these many that needed eliminating or neutralizing.
From early days, ex-servicemen had been employed as bouncers at meetings of the party which had become, on 1st April 1920, six short months after Hitler joined, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, quickly known as the Nazi Party. By the summer Hitler had organized these thugs into Ordnertruppe who not only dealt with hecklers, but were themselves sent to heckle and possibly break up meetings of other parties. On 5th October 1921 they were officially renamed the Sturmabteilung, the S.A., the storm troopers. Until the creation of the SS and the Gestapo, the Brown Shirts were Hitler’s instrument of terror. And he was already, in a small way, a dictator. Earlier, in July, he had survived a challenge to his leadership that left him with the title of President, the only spokesman for the party and the sole authority; the Fuehrerprinzip had arrived.