Did Hitler create a totalitarian regime?
After consolidating his power, Hitler sought to make Germany a nation a totalitarian state in which the one-party Nazi structure had absolute political authority over every aspect of ‘life’. By suppressing opposition and making individuals mere pawns of the state this was partly achieved. Several strategies quickly ensured civilian support, whilst exploiting political opportunities and manipulating the economy allowed Hitler close to unlimited power within Germany. However, due to a lack of central control over the economy and inherent problems in the structure of the Nazi party, Hitler’s position as leader of a totalitarian state was never complete.
Through a mixture of violence and propaganda, daily life in Germany was effectively regimented. Gaining a monopolisation of the media was essential to Hitler’s aims and was achieved through purchasing newspapers and heavily censoring radio broadcasts and films. Such propaganda schemes were fundamental to Hitler’s authority and included restructuring education to teach Nazi ideologies, introducing youth groups to indoctrinate younger generations and gaining the support of women through stressing their importance, especially as healthy mothers.
Furthermore, by suspending civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly following the 1933 Reichstag fire, and by introducing measures like the ‘Strength through Joy’ scheme, Hitler managed ‘to leave the people with nothing but sleep to themselves’ (insert source here).
The other vital requisite of Hitler’s totalitarian society was the enforcement of a police state. Fear tactics implemented by the Gestapo and SS such as the persecution of religious opposition, imprisoning people indefinitely and conducting interrogative torture sessions, were characteristic of the Nazi regime and effectively dissolved pockets of rebellion. By dictating many facets of daily life and ruthlessly removing any opposition that arose, Hitler achieved extensive control of German society.
A totalitarian society only became possible through Hitler’s supreme dictatorial position, which gave him a comprehensive command over German politics. Following his appointment as Chancellor, Hitler sought to consolidate his authority by achieving a majority in the Riechstag and following Hindengurg’s death in 1934, amalgamating the positions of Chancellor and President. Similarly, though the implications of the Enabling Act and the unequivocal banning of political adversary like the Communists, Hitler gained the right to bypass state and federal parliament completely. Any remaining opposition including internal rivalry was nullified through purges such as the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Hitler also recognised the power of religious organisations and consequently signed a concordat with the Pope, which promised the Church would not interfere in politics in return for religious freedom; an agreement Hitler failed to honour. By dissolving political opposition and becoming legal dictator of Germany, a system in which Hitler had absolute control over all political decisions was created.
Though Hitler had unquestionable authority over Germany, the political status of the Nazi party lacked similar stability. The power behind the Nazi regime was not in the structural strength of the party, but with a few charismatic individuals hand-chosen by their leader, Adolf Hitler. Gleichschaltung, or the coordination of everything, was a myth, and the Nazi party and its politics were often confused. Hitler’s encouraging interior competition over consensus further hindered the creation of a totalitarian state, and he often appointed directors or authorities whose position encroached on existing ministries.
This haphazard configuration was intensified by Hitler’s own disinterest in the day-to-day running of Germany. Evidence also shows that though Hitler was never ‘degraded to the level of mere executant of other people’s wills and opinion,’ he was still answerable to public opinion. Consequently, a wage cut in September 1939 was rescinded following public outrage and a similar uproar halted the euthanasia program in 1941. Finally, though the army never openly opposed Hitler’s rule, their loyalty was in doubt for many years, and was only ever regulated after the failed July bomb plot of 1944. Ultimately, though Hitler directed an enormously powerful political party, it remained disorganised and open to the influence of other powers.
From his strong political position, Hitler had the means to impose control over the economy. Once in power, Hitler forbade strikes, banned all trade unions, and initiated the Nazi Labour Front; a democratic farce run by Nazis that effectively limited worker’ rights and status. Hitler also introduced compulsory workbooks and job conscription whilst making it illegal for women to work in many areas of industry. These measures, combined with the instatement of state officers who had extensive control over employment, further regulated worker movements, whilst allowing Nazis greater command of Germany’s finances. The extent of Nazi control following these impositions is shown in Hitler’s attempt at German self-sufficiency through Göring ‘s Four-Year Plan. Autarky was never achieved but the endeavour shows the extent of Hitler’s control over industry, the workers and the economy.
Such actions were insufficient in allowing the Nazis to gain complete authority over economic affairs. Rather than viewing the economy as an integral part of his regime, Hitler saw it as a means to an end, in his case, Führer of Germany. His inattention meant the legislation in place was incomplete and central control was never imposed. After 1942 when Speer was appointed Supply Minister, Nazi influence increased, but Speer’s command was restricted by the refusal of local Nazi leaders to fulfil his orders. Attempts at monopolising the economy were further limited by labour shortages, which meant job conscription became obsolete. Finally, Hitler again encouraged competition over a united labour front, which meant power remained with industrialists. In effect, though Hitler had sweeping government command over the economy, the measures implemented failed to achieve total central control.
Hitler created a regime in Germany where all aspects of ‘life’ were answerable to his political authority. Through creating a police state and making full use of propaganda, Hitler could dictate the lives of the German people. However, though laws like the Enabling Act meant Hitler was the leader of a strong political force, the Nazi party was a chaotic organisation and one that never gained central control of the economy. Ultimately, though Hitler had extensive power in Germany, a lack of political correlation and economic control meant he was never leader of a true totalitarian state.
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