To what extent did Hitler’s Policies attract working class support between 1933 and 1939

It has been argued that resentment amongst the working classes made this group most resistant to the Nazi regime. Growing resentment seemed apparent in the late thirties, in industrial slowdowns, but it fails to accurately reflect the general sentiment amongst workers. Declining working class support was arguably inevitable when economic promises went unfulfilled, as most historians agree efforts to instill Nazi ideology were least effective amongst workers. Many industrial workers remained influenced by enduring affiliations to the opposing ideology of Communism and its “class struggle”. These values represented a barrier to support, which Bartov argued policy could never overcome: making the working class issue, “the most significant case in point as regards the Nazi Regime’s failure”1 to overcome class boundaries.The lack of ideological commitment amongst workers prompted Hitler’s grandiose economic promises. Support was therefore constantly reliant on economics and the ability to create jobs in the midst of a depression. This made support fragile and temporary: propaganda emphasis on workers’ importance provided little comfort during economic instability. Leisure opportunities provided by Strength Through Joy (KdF) were received gratefully, and although ideological impact was limited, the scheme convinced some workers conditions were improving under the regime. Just like the initial economic recovery, its effect was superficial support limited, as the regime’s values failed to penetrate working class psyche. Ultimately, this failure to instill ideology placed too great a burden on economic policy, which could not be maintained given the priority of preparing for war.The fulcrum of Hitler’s social policies for workers was the creation of jobs and wage increases to reflect recovery of the national economy and pride. There was recognition of the range of concerns amongst German workers with the propaganda effort stressing the relative merits of different sectors on top of the incessant emphasis on the importance of workers more generally. In particular, “Hitler had built up the peasantry”2 making them central to the “People’s Community”, but insistence upon job creation schemes and economic stability was arguably more influential. Mason argued that many workers were convinced by the Nazi economic “miracle” and that this was perhaps an inevitable product of the uncertainty of the “recent depths of the Depression”3. We may suspect exaggeration of the economic factor from a Marxist historian, but he is correct to stress the strong position the regime had. The economic uncertainty allowed Hitler to be portrayed as a savior, but this connection arguably made his support fragile as economic progress was not guaranteed. However, a temporary fulfillment of key economic promises increased working class support and ensured “enormous personal gains… mainly perhaps among workers”4 for Hitler in the early years where security was established. This recognition reveals that the early years enhanced the Fuhrer’s aura as a ‘man of action’ in whom workers could trust.However “nominal hourly wages in 1933 were 97 per cent of…1932″5 and in this regard the ‘miracle’ was not realized in tangible economic terms. Therefore as early as 1935 SOPADE reported economic uncertainty placed “great strain on the mental strength”.6 The SOPADE reports naturally contained a sentiment opposed to the regime as an extension of their political endeavors. Operating within industrial centres, they witnessed genuinely negative sentiment, which they frequently exaggerated. Kershaw recognized a “playing down of genuine approval”7, which must be considered when evaluating workers’ support. The disenfranchisement of SOPADE was seen in the description of an initially positive working class response to the socio-economic policy as a “mystery”8. This showed security and stability could overcome reservations over the regime. While support fluctuated across different industries the enduring trend was insistence upon the centrality of economics. Kershaw argued discontent “rooted in socio-economic experience … [was] remarkable”9, highlighting wage increases as priority. Housden assessed factors which ensured workers’ compliance: “propaganda incentives, food … and Gestapo surveillance”10. However, relatively little insight is provided without evaluating their relative importance which varied widely by time and location. He shows economic stability was not alone in attracting workers’ support, but initially it was decisive.Any possibility of cohesive working class resistance effectively ended with the 1934 abolition of trade unions and centralization of power through the DAF. This policy revealed urgency of decisively minimizing worker’s resistance. Having promised to, “build up…worker’s rights”11 this removal of political expression was not immediately contradictory given propaganda which aligned it with Volksgemeinschaft. Portrayed as a key step toward ending class conflict, the restructuring in fact represented a major victory for the employers, whose heightened responsibility reflected Hitler’s insistence on efficiency for rearmament and a willingness to act at the “expense of the employee”12 in pursuit of grander targets. In this sense, the Law could be viewed as necessary in preventing cohesive opposition. In spite of an ideological insistence which convinced wealthier workers, a high proportion of industrial workers remained firmly, but impotently opposed.Mason, whose insistence on class struggle demands caution, argued the law inevitably produced a “legacy of deep bitterness”13; which is a valid historical judgment in this instance, combining the emotional impact of this act with pre-existing oppositional sentiment. The disposition of older industrial workers could not be overturned by the propaganda of Ley, “Germany has sung the praises of the working man”14 which appeared hypocritical given the removal of rights. The reputation of the DAF was damaged by institutionalized corruption which heightened animosity amongst those workers “forced to sustain it”15. Evans’ insistence on compulsion explains enduring hostility. Whilst the DAF could efficiently distribute ideological doctrine, its foundations established resentment amongst industrial workers which accentuated their existing commitment to class struggle. Removal of trade unions was unpopular but cruelly ended the possibility for legal objection and so served its function for the regime.Social policies like KdF were signaled as examples of increased opportunities for the working classes and this was intended to increase support for a regime. Hitler proclaimed publicly, “I wish that the worker be granted a sufficient holiday”16 and although this has the obvious propagandist intention of highlighting improving workers’ conditions: arguably, Hitler truly believed he could break class barriers and thereby legitimize his dictatorship. This assessment portrays Hitler manipulating the utopian sentiment to protect his own reputation: the contemporary view of KdF as “a clever appeal to… unpolitical workers” 17 reinforces this notion.It had been stated it “would insert an ideological content into every kind of leisure”18, but to workers with no concept of class struggle, the opportunity of middle class leisure activities alone was enough to convince of a concerted effort to improve conditions and this SOPADE account reflects resignation to attraction of superficial policies for less ideologically opposed workers. SOPADE reports are fascinating due to the variety of opinion which was obtained by their national investigations. One report claimed workers felt “sand [was] being thrown in their eyes”19. This could imply KdF was largely unpopular, or that while its propagandist intentions were too apparent, its benefits and emphasis on workers’ livelihood encouraged greater sympathy with the regime. Ultimately these reports reflect despair that by 1939 social policy had increased workers’ support: overpowering negative reaction to reduced freedoms.Popularity seems validated by participating numbers: almost 7million short trips in 193820, but ideological infiltration is inherently unquantifiable. Enjoyment of holidays provided only a temporary morale boost and could not affect significant changes in political disposition, in the long term. On top of this generality, the older industrial workers were too “deeply imbued with Marxist ideas of class conflict to yield directly to its appeal”21, which confirms Evans’ judgment that superficial social policy would inevitably fail in its wider propaganda function. This imbalance in political sentiment actually led KdF to accentuate class differences amongst workers and the nation as a whole. SOPADE observed middle classes chosing trips with “a more select clientele”22, which clarifies existing prejudices and the lack of integration which arguably represented failure. Hitler defied these reports in 1939, arguing, “We have broken down classes”23, but the obvious need to prepare a nation for war implies this goes beyond mere wishful thinking.Although Kershaw argued that such social propaganda, “made little dent in traditional class loyalties”24; the correspondence of Christina Bielenberg who sensed, “social divisions are melting”25, illustrates that even opponents of the regime observed progress. Whereas SOPADE arguably manipulated worker’s sentiment, this personal perception contains no obvious bias and remains relevant in spite of its limitation. No single observation could illustrate the true situation but Kershaw arguably marginalizes the range of support to insist disproportionately upon class solidarity. Nonetheless it is now clear that the lasting impact of social policy was to accentuate class differences. This was apparent throughout KdF and even through the charitable “Winterhilfe” scheme which showed a commitment to easing poverty. Donations were obtained through social obligation and this placed unfair pressure on poorer working classes who were equally compelled.Failure of social policy’s propaganda was arguably produced by cynicism that they distracted from limited economic progress. Its compensatory function was not realized only by SOPADE, as there was also recognition within the DAF that holidays, “could not fill hungry mouths”26, with the implication that funds could have been used more responsibly. Evans uses statistics and written accounts to validate the contemporary judgment amongst working class that social policies substituted wage increases. Nazi’s attempted insisted upon “a consideration of [the] position the workers” 27 in a piece of propaganda reasserting the “National Community”, which failed to convince workers. What workers were convinced by, temporarily and superficially, was the opportunity to escape everyday life and although this effect extended even to the most resistant workers, it did not represent ideological submission.The influence of war preparations had a multi-faceted impact upon attempts to create the National Community. Evans argued effectiveness of social measures was limited because they were “ruthlessly subordinated”28 to rearmament. The relationship is more complicated however as the war provided jobs for the working class and boosted the reputation of Hitler through successes like the annexing of Austria. Although weapons production ensured new jobs, they were only temporary: and meanwhile other industries suffered. So, while some benefited short term, the perceived importance of war encouraged the regime to delay reforms reliant on “lebensraum”. This necessary delaying also encouraged the temporary, compensatory policies like KdF which had limited impact.Bartov noted the “Worker’s resistance has been signalled as a demonstration of the regime’s failure,”29 but subliminally criticizes historians like Mason, who arguably attributed too much significance to rising absenteeism. Mason’s Marxist background presents itself in an insistence upon class struggle, but his judgment of, “a massive, but not a fundamental, principled challenge to the regime”30, is suitably balanced and accurate. Mason justifies his argument by detailing the extent of the resistance through statistical evidence and his assessment is strengthened by Housden’s argument, “worker unrest never became really unmanageable for the regime”31.Importantly, The Gestapo’s influence and the willingness to use violence arguably meant disorganized opposition could never have presented a significant problem. SOPADE reported, “The number of those who consciously criticize …is very small”32 which reinforces the levels of fear which produced passive compliance despite ideological resistance. The emergence of widespread resistance in the late 1930’s reflected the inability of social policies to undermine the class struggle, but also illustrated the regime’s ability to prevent significant resistance.The worker’s resistance was in itself unremarkable; representing inevitable resurfacing of barely-hidden Communist allegiances amongst industrial workers. Residual oppositional sentiment could not be shaken by social policies frequently dismissed as non-too-subtle propaganda. KdF appealed to a certain sentiment and encouraged increased support, but the superficiality and often negative economic impact failed to satisfy the poorest workers. Propaganda thus represented a blunt tool to attract wider support, and as a result the regime generally had to rely on tangible economic improvement and the instruments of repression to provide the required stability for the war effort. Overall, measures to attract support were marginally successful, but this arguably meant little in any case given the instruments of oppression at the regime’s disposal.

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