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Nazis, Organizing Revolt, Took Lessons from Trotsky

May 28, 1933
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This, the fourth of a series of articles by Miss Thompson under the general title, “Hitler, the Menace,” treats of the technique of revolution as applied by the National Socialists of the Reich.

The dismaying thing about the modern coup d’etat, sometimes erroneously called “revolution” is how relatively easy it is becoming to make one. The technique of revolution has, in ten years, become a sort of applied sciencé. There are, to be sure, universities which teach the technique of revolution in Soviet Russia, but it is quite unnecessary to visit them, since the material which the bright young revolutionist needs for his studies is everywhere about him; in the newspapers, in the moving pictures, on the radio. The Russian revolution, particularly the coup d’etat engineered by Leon Trotsky, had an element of genius in it, and much of the technique was taken over bodily by Mussolini. The German revolution has had the advantage of two examples: the Russian and the Fascist, and has taken points from both. To someone who is familiar with both the Russian and the Italian revolutions, the German revolution, looked at technically, is banal. It is frightfully unoriginal.

Mussolini took from Garibaldi and contributed to the technique of modern revolution the idea of making uniformed troops with the aid of a single, very cheap, and generally available garment—a cotton shirt. Every revolution, like every war, needs a uniform, or at least needs something which distinguishes its members from everyone else. In Hungary, both the “red” and the “white” revolutions, which came at a time when thousands of soldiers were still in war uniforms, use cockades. The disadvantage of the cockade is, however, that it can be almost instantly changed. There is a little more effort involved in changing a shirt. This idea—the shirt uniform was taken over by Hitler from the Fascists.

But both Fascists and National Socialists have taken most of their propaganda ideas from Soviet Russia. These ideas, previously had been most effectively developed in the United States by “high-pressure” salesmen, who had perfected the technique of creating a desire for goods by advertising, and who had carefully studied the psychology of potential buyers and learned on what primitive instincts—of fear, of aggression, of self-preservation, of the feeling of inferiority—the advertiser could most effectively play.


From Soviet Russia and from the American tabloid newspaper, the German revolution has taken the “art” of photomontage—the putting together of various photographs, with a minimum of text, in order most effectively to present a story and an argument to the primitive mind. The Russian, Fascist, and German revolutions all have this in common: there is a perfectly cynical disregard for bourgeois conceptions of truth in their propaganda. I have seen photographs taken in 1915 of soldiers with their heads shot off, re-touched, and with hackenkreuz armbands painted on, reproduced as “victims of communist atrocity” in National Socialist propaganda literature. The theory that the end justifies the means is a great deal older than any modern revolution, but it is shared by all of them in common.

The idea that “art” must not be pursued either for its own sake or in the interest of some abstract and eternal ideal, but must be made the handmaiden of the political tendency is also common to all three revolutions. “Art”, say the Russians, “Must serve the Masses.” “Art,” say the Fascists, “Must serve the Community of Interest.” “Art,” say the Germans, “Must be of the Folk”—or, to quote the Reich propaganda chief, Dr. Goebbels, “Must be rooted in the folk, and aggressive.” Inasmuch as all three states have it in their power to prevent the artist from making any economic gains except in the interest of the revolution, the propaganda has great resources upon which to draw.

The German revolution has taken two of its most important shibboleths from abroad. The one is the concept of the “total state.” This is from Mussolini. The other—preached openly only by the more radical National Socialists, such as Goebbels—is the concept of the “permanent revolution”. This is taken from Trotsky.


The concept of the “total state” is advanced in opposition to the “liberal-democratic” conception of a social order, which, on March 5th, was declared forever dead in Germany. The German leaders certainly wish to see it thoroughly exterminated—although they continue to appeal precisely to liberal-democratic opinion in the rest of the world, for a fair deal. The whole idea of the fair deal, it might be pointed out is liberal-democratic.

Because the essence of liberal-democracy is that it believes in the rights of minorities; it believes that it is the duty of the state to protect even those citizens who disagree with its tenets. It is supremely generous—it expresses its willingness to share existence with the enemy. It seeks the limitation of public authority, and tries to leave room for those who do not agree with the majority.

It is probably the noblest political ideal ever formulated and the human race has advanced farther under it than under any other conception whatsoever. That it demands a discipline and a level of culture too high, perhaps, for the triumphant masses is another matter.


The idea which the National Socialist Revolution opposes to liberal-democracy, is that of the “voelkisch” or “folk” state. Call it tribal. The technique of achieving the “total” state, in this spirit, has contributed a new word, which I predict will come into international usage, as “bolshevist” “Nepman” and “Fascist” have done. The word is called “gleichschaltung” and means “bringing into line” or “bringing into conformity.”

The bringing into line of the various states—Prussia, Bavaria, ect—was accomplished by a coup d’etat, the chief technique of which consisted in telling your enemies that you were contemplating nothing of the kind and then doing it. This, at least, was the way Bavaria was won for unity. The first efforts of the National Revolution were to bring into line the states, then the civil service everywhere, and then to conquer cultural positions. The same technique was employed everywhere. While National Socialist politicians were occupying the key positions in the government, national socialist theatre directors, musicians, university professors, public school teachers, were making a conquest of theaters and schools.


The next step was the Bringing into Conformity of the trades and professions. It is amazing with what expedition this coup was accomplished. A most important attack was made immediately upon the trade unions. In the trade unions the National Socialists had followed precisely the same technique as the Communists; in each union, and in each branch of each union, and in each branch of that union, a “cell” had been formed, prepared to take the situation over the moment the successful coup against the state gave the signal.

Practically speaking, the end to be accomplished is a single national trade union which stands directly under the state. Into the trade unions has been introduced the “leader principle” which the new National Socialist Mythology preaches as the original form of German democracy. Practically speaking the “leader principle” simply means that the leader is not elected by the group but appointed from above. In this, again, there is a similarity with the Soviet Russian form of government, which always makes the person in power responsible to someone higher up and not to the people over whom he rules.

Practically all economic groups in Germany are organized. Thus so-called hand workers, like bakers, butchers, etc, who are in one sense workers and in another employers, have their “chambers”. These also have been “gleichgeschaltet”. The same has happened with the Chambers of Commerce.


The organization of the peasantry into a single great economic group under National Socialist leaders (the chief is Walter Darré) is an imposing accomplishment of the National Revolution, easily brought about because National Socialism has had, from the beginning, its strongest support among the peasants.

All the semi-public organizations which represent the employing class, such as the Federation of German industries, the Langnam Verein (Association for representing common economic interests in the Rhinelands and Westphalia) have been “brought into line” by the simple process of throwing out the executives and putting in new ones, who support the National Socialist theory. The same thing has been done with the Chambers of Commerce, and even with the stock exchanges, which stand in close relationship to the Chambers of Commerce. The associations of retail traders have been put under Nazi leadership. In al of these organizations which cover practically the entire private economic activity of Germany, or which certainly touch upon it at important points, the principle of representation, of free determination of policy, has been killed at blow.


It is extremely interesting to note what has not been “Brought Into Conformity.” Curiously enough, and in the first line, the banks have not! The National Socialist revolution directed its propaganda almost as actively against the banks, against the “Interest Tyranny”, as it did against the Communists. Much of the anti-Semitic propaganda was based on the theory that Jewish bankers were responsible for the extravagant borrowing policy which had made Germany a “colony of foreign countries.”

But although Jewish college professors, lawyers, physicians, teachers and journalists have been thrown out of their positions from one day to the next I have yet to hear of a Jewish banker who has been dismissed.

The strongest personality remains Adolf Hitler, who inclines toward moderation in this matter, but some of his most effective co-workers, notably Goering and Goebbels, never lose an opportunity to stress the social revolutionary character of the movement. In the smaller industries there has been a considerable change of personnel. Jewish executives have had to leave, and in a few cases National Socialists have

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