Evaluate the view that the Nazi consolidation of power between January 1933 and August 1934 was a ‘legal process’. (10 Marks)
The period between January 1933 and August 1943 was a key period for Hitler and the Nazi party to consolidate power in the form of a dictatorship. Hitler’s change of strategy to gain power legally was an effective process as he created a legal image in the eyes of the public. For example the appearance of legality was shown in his success in the public elections and the consent from officials to join the positions of Chancellor and President, the laws that he used such as Enabling Act and the Reichstag Fire Decree, which were passed legally. However, when assessing the Nazi ‘legal’ consolidation of power it is important to address the number of non-legal factors such as the use of SA terror and the Night of the Long Knives to shape elections and eliminate political opponents that contributed to aiding the Nazi party in achieving the image of legality during their consolidation of power. Therefore, the view that the Nazi consolidation of power between January 1933 and August 1934 was, to certain extent, a legal process when considering the assisting factors that helped to consolidate their power behind the scenes.
The laws that were enacted and used by the Nazi party were apart of a legal consolidation of power. The Reichstag Fire Decree, signed on 28th February 1933 was issued by President Hindenburg through article 48 on the advice of Hitler as an immediate response to the Reichstag fire. This legally allowed the Nazis to suspend civil liberties and (as shown in source G) gave “absolute powers to the German government for 4 years”. This allowed the Nazi party to consolidate their power as the Presidential functions would cease and restricted “the rights and personal freedom and freedom of opinion”(source E). The Reichstag Fire Decree tightened the Reich’s control over state governments (“State and local authorities must obey the orders decreed by the Reichstag government” -source E) allowed the party to make arrests of many communists or socialists, eliminating many political opponents to further consolidate their position in the Reichstag. The Communist party was outlawed and not allowed to take part in the March 1933 elections.Without Communist opposition the Nazi Party gained 44% of the vote in the March 1933 elections. The German National People’s Party, who supported the Nazi Party gained 8% of the vote. This gave Hitler a majority in the Reichstag.
Additionally, the Enabling Act of 1933 was essentially a dictatorship in legality. It was an amendment to the Weimar Constitution that gave the Nazis power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The Enabling Act gave Hitler absolute powers and followed the Reichstag Fire Decree, which had abolished most civil liberties and transferred state powers to the Reich government. The combined effect of the two laws was to transform Hitler's government into a legal dictatorship. The act was not only signed by Hindenburg but was also approved by the Reichstag 444 votes to 94. As a legal act of Parliament, this allowed the Nazi party to create laws even outside the constitution. Although the Act was only temporary, due to the great care that Hitler took to give his dictatorship an appearance of legality, the Enabling Act was renewed twice, in 1937 and 1941. The Act effectively eliminated the Reichstag as active players in German politics and transferred the law making powers to the Nazi party.
Although the laws and rise of the Nazi party through the Reichstag to consolidate their power as shown to be a legal process, historians should not ignore the tactics that were used not in view of the public to achieve the necessary support. The constant use of SA intimidation during election periods was not legal. Striving to present himself as a legitimate politician, Hitler still ordered the attacks on unionists, communists and Jews. They served as the party’s muscle, dealing with political opponents through intimidation and violence. The fear that this instilled in the public greatly influenced elections to Nazi favour. Later on, in order to gain support from the army to consolidate their position of power in the Reichstag, the Nazi party required the support of the army to aid in his ‘lebensraum’ policy and support his succession to presidency. When the army generals made it clear that they would not support Hitler until the brutish SA were stopped, Hitler, who was still not in a position at that time to ignore the army high command, removed the SA as a political power during the Night of the Long Knives. The SS were instructed to kill many SA leaders and extended to other enemies of the Nazi party. This act was only made legal later on when Hitler announced he did it for the good of the German people but was supported by the public, making it almost seem legal. The Nazi party were then in a position, when Hindenburg died to make the army take the “oath of service” (source F) to finally consolidate their power into a dictatorship with the army’s support.
The Nazi consolidation of power from March 1933 to August 1934, mostly appeared to be a legal process through the eyes of the public. The parliamentary acts such as the Reichstag Fire decree and the Enabling act were the key bits of legislation passed legally, that allowed Hitler to legally remove political opponents and control the actions of the public to consolidate his position of Chancellor and then later on Furher. The Nazi party slowly removed the Weimar government until only they remained with no challengers. However this process although seemingly legitimate on a large scale, used illegal SA intimidation to shape elections and then later on violent killings to remove opponents but were justified or made legal after the event. When considering the Nazi consolidation of power as a legal path to power, historians must consider the behind the scene effects of violence and killings to shape the German government.