chapter  5
29 Pages

Party membership and propensity for violence

National Socialism had arisen almost phoenix-like in the space of a few years from one of a number of extreme right volkisch groups to establish itself as the largest political force within German politics and, with the willing connivance of the old right, entered the Reich govn' ment in 1933. The task of identifying the Nazi constituency and thus the reasons for the advance and coming to power of the National Socialists, particularly given what is now known about the Nazi regime in power and the atrocities it committed, have engrossed and preoccupied the careers of many historians ever since. Political scientists too (see chapter 7) have endeavoured to unlock the characteristics that laid the basis for the success of the NSDAP in their efforts to analyse whether such qualities can still be applied as explanations for the surges in support of contemporary right-wing extremism. There is considerable validity for such investigation. The starting point for any study into the social composition of Nazism must be located before the Machtergreifung (seizure of power) in 1933 as party membership after this date became a compulsory requirement for many public and private sector professions and subsequent career progression. In other words, any attempt to analyse the eight million members the party had amassed by 1945 would almost certainly provide a rather ambiguous and deceptive account of the membership base.' Any analysis should focus on the period from the Nazi breakthrough in the September 1930 elections to the further successes in the two national polls of 1932 and, in particular, the July elections where the NSDAP received 37.3 per cent of the vote. During this period the electoral growth was replicated in terms of party membership which rose from 126,523 members in 1930 to 849,009 members by January 1933.2

Table 5.1 The rise of the NSDAP, 1928-32

Votes cast % of vote Seats gained Membership (votes in millions and rounded percentages)

1928 812,000 2.6 12 95,000 1930 6.4 18.3 107 126,523 1932 (June) 13.8 37.3 230 1932 (Nov) 11.7 33.1 196 1933 17.3 43.9 288 849,009

This process was manifest in the virtually complete disintegration of the liberal parties and the middle-class abandonment of the conservative right. In this short period of three years over two million voters switched their allegiance from the conservatives to their more radical challengers. The main beneficiaries were the NSDAP, but others, and particularly some of the more minor parties, including the Bavarian People's Party (BVP), also polled better. On the one hand, Nazism represented a variety of ideas and grievances many of which were far from original and were consistently espoused by most forces on the right. On the other, it came across as a vibrant force. The NSDAP's advances owed much to the party's reorganization from the mid-1920s and its use of the latest communication techniques.6