Today we will look at the constitution of the Weimar Reichstag elected parliament after the November, 1932 elections:
National Socialists (NSDAP): 230 seats, 37.27% of votes
Social Democrats (SPD):133 seats, 21.58%
Communist Party (KPD): 89 seats, 14.32%
German Centrist Party (Zentrum): 75 seats, 12.44%
German National People’s Party (DNVP): 37 seats, 5.91%
From left: NSDAP, NSDAP, Zentrum, SPD, KPD, DNVP
Imagine having to vote in that election. Although the SPD today are a centre-left party, the equivalent of the Labor Party, in those days many of its major leaders were much more strongly influenced by Marx, even if they still believed in democracy and did not espouse revolution to set up a Soviet style Dictatorship of the Proletariat, like the KPD did. If you were not left wing, and staunchly anti-“Commie”, then the only viable right-wing party meaningfully large enough that you could hope it would stop your country turning into a Soviet style Communist Republic was the NSDAP. Prior to the rise of the NSDAP, the DNVP was emerging as a centre-right party capable of being a major political force. Previously the centre-right had been convincingly lead by Gustav Stresemann (of the DVP), but after Stresemann’s untimely death, the centre-right gradually shrunk to oblivion. Industrialists and bankers who once supported the centre-right put their money behind the NSDAP instead. In the 1932 elections, the DNVP won only 5.9% of the vote. In other words, voting for the NSDAP became just like voting for the Liberal Party in the Australian elections.
However, there is another interesting statistic lurking in there. The political right remained reasonably united and cohesive around the NSDAP. The other smaller parties in the Reichstag like the Catholic Centrists and the DNVP were centre right parties (forerunners of Angela Merkel’s CDU), and would be more inclined to enter into a coalition with the NSDAP—after all they were considered by the Christian Right to be the lesser evil compared to the “Godless Commies”. On the other hand, the political left was far more deeply divided. Left-wing voters were unusually strongly divided between the SPD and KPD. Voting for the SPD was like voting for Labor, and, I guess, that means that voting for the KPD was like voting for the Greens. If you count up the seats and you add the SPD seats to the KPD seats, that is 133 + 89 = 222. That is almost as many seats as the NSDAP won in total (230). If the SPD and KPD had formed a coalition, as many after the war criticised them for failing to do, it would have been large enough to stand up to the NSDAP, and prevent their grab at absolute power. Unfortunately, the SPD and KPD were bitterly divided and refused to even talk to one another. The KPD assumed no such coalition was necessary because capitalism was so corrupt that it would soon crumble away allowing the impending utopia to fall into their laps. Tragically, the rest is history.
There is a lesson to be learned from this. If the political left is strongly divided between two fairly large voting blocks that refuse to cooperate, or form a coalition and united front to stand up to the political right, then where the left stands divided the right will conquer. The right will utterly decimate the left. When you see the squabbling between Labor and the Greens—not to mention the infighting within Labor—then, compare it to the cohesion between the Liberals-Nationals, and you will see history repeating…
George Grosz: die Stützen der Gesellschaft (The Pillars of Society), 1926. You can see caricatures of typical Weimar Republic voters. “Sozialismus ist Arbeit” translates as “Socialism means jobs”. The man with the chamber pot on his head is probably a caricature of Alfred Hugenberg of the DNVP. The NSDAP voter wears a black band in his lapel of a retired cavalry officer, and represents the typical landed gentry that supported the right along with big business and banks.
The Australian political swing to the extreme right has occurred in exactly the same manner as that of the November 1932 Reichstag elections. Only the backdrop to the Australian elections was the Great Recession (GFC), whereas the instability and voter division in the Reichstag elections occurred on the backdrop of the Great Depression, which had hit Germany especially hard.