Nehru's Word: How Nazi Germany became ‘triumphantly dominant’ in Europe

Continuing our discussion on the decline of democratic forces and rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe, we bring the last part of Jawaharlal Nehru’s compelling account of ‘The Nazi Triumph in Germany’

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

Continuing our discussion on the decline of democratic forces and rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe, we bring to you this week the last part of Jawaharlal Nehru’s compelling account of the ‘The Nazi Triumph in Germany’ contained in a letter he wrote to his daughter on July 31, 1933. Though written more than eight decades ago, it can help us understand many contemporary political, economic and social trends. Nehru also makes some perceptive comments on Marxism in this piece.


"Nazi Germany has thus become a storm centre in Europe, adding to the multitude of fears of this “panic-stricken world”. There is plenty of hatred and opposition to the Nazis in Germany, but it is clear enough that all organised opposition has been crushed. There is no party or organisation left in Germany, and the Nazis are supreme.

Among the Nazis themselves there appear to be two parties: the capitalist element and the business community forming the right wing, and the majority of the rank and file of the party, forming the left wing. The people who gave the revolutionary urge to Hitler’s movement had a great deal of anti-capitalist radicalism, and they have subsequently accepted many socialists and Marxists. The right wing and the left wing of the Nazi movement had little in common. Hitler’s great success consisted in keeping them together and playing one off against the other. This could be done as long as a common enemy was in sight. Now that the enemy has been crushed or absorbed, the conflict between the right and left wing is bound to develop.

Already there are rumblings. The left-wing Nazis demanded that the first revolution having been successfully completed, the “Second Revolution” should now be begun, this being against capitalism, landlordism, etc. Hitler has, however, come down with a threat to suppress ruthlessly this “Second Revolution”. So, he has ranged himself definitely with the capitalist right wing...

You will agree that this Nazi triumph and its consequences have been most important for Europe and the world and will have far-reaching results: Undoubtedly it is fascism, and Hitler himself is a typical fascist. But the Nazi movement has been something more widespread and radical than Italian fascism was.

Large numbers of Jews, who had been forcibly removed, gave place to Germans. The economic condition of Germany did not improve, indeed it grew worse

To some extent orthodox Marxist theory has been confounded by the growth of the Nazi movement. Orthodox Marxists have believed that the only genuinely revolutionary class was the working class and, as economic conditions worsened, this class would draw to itself the discontented and dispossessed elements of the lower-middle class and ultimately bring about a workers’ revolution.

As a matter of fact, something very different has happened in Germany. The workers were far from revolutionary when the crisis came, and a new revolutionary class was formed chiefly from the dispossessed lower-middle classes and other discontented elements. This does not fit in with orthodox Marxism.

But, say other Marxists, Marxism must not be looked upon as a dogma or religion or creed which authoritatively lays down the final truth, as religions do. It is a philosophy of history, a way of looking at history which explains much and makes it hang together, and a method of action to achieve socialism. Its fundamental principles have to be applied in a variety of ways to meet the changing conditions of different times and different countries.

Note (Nov 1938): Since the above letter was written, five and a quarter years ago, there has been nothing so remarkable in world politics as the growth in power and prestige of Nazi Germany under Hitler. Hitler dominates Europe today, and the great Powers, or those who were great, bow down to him and tremble at his threats. Twenty years ago, Germany was defeated, humbled, crushed. And now, without a military victory or war, Hitler has made her the victorious nation, and the Treaty of Versailles is dead and buried.

Hitler’s first concern, after coming into power, was to crush opponents in Germany and consolidate the Nazi Party. Having “Nazified” Germany, he decided to end the leftist tendencies within the Nazi ranks, which had been looking forward to a second and anti-capitalist revolution. The Brown-shirts were disbanded and their leaders shot down on June 30, 1934.

Many others were also killed off, including General von Schleicher, who had once been Chancellor. In August 1934 President von Hindenburg died, and Hitler took his place, becoming the Chancellor-President. He was all-powerful in Germany then, the Fuehrer or Leader of the German people.

There was great distress among the people and private charity was organised, almost compulsorily, on a vast scale to relieve distress. Compulsory labour camps were also started where the unemployed were sent to work. Large numbers of Jews, who had been forcibly removed, gave place to Germans. The economic condition of Germany did not improve, indeed it grew worse, but unemployment, as such, disappeared. Meanwhile secret rearmament went on, and the fear of Germany grew.

Early in 1935 the plebiscite in the Saar basin went overwhelmingly in favour of union with Germany, and this area was joined on to Germany. In May that year, Hitler publicly repudiated the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and decreed compulsory military service. A huge rearmament programme was launched. None of the League Powers did anything; fear gripped them, especially France. France negotiated an alliance with Soviet Russia. The British Government preferred to line up with Nazi Germany and signed a naval pact with her in June 1935.

This had curious consequences. France, feeling that England was deserting her, made overtures to Italy, and Mussolini, thinking that the moment was opportune, launched the invasion of Abyssinia. In March 1938 Hitler marched into Austria and proclaimed the anschluss or union with Germany. Again, the League Powers submitted. In Austria an aggressive and brutal anti-Jew campaign was launched by the Nazis.

Czechoslovakia now became the target for Nazi aggression, and for several months the problem of the Sudeten Germans agitated Europe. British policy helped the Nazis greatly, and France dared not go against this policy. A new division of Europe was thus begun, a Europe in which France and England were becoming second-class Powers, and Nazi Germany, under Hitler, was triumphantly dominant.”

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library).

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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