Adolf Hitler will give you - ?

<strong>Taken from The <em>New Statesman</em> 6 May 1933</strong>

The First of May celebrations in 1933 were the last act of defiance by the German trade union movement against the Nazi dictatorship. The next day trade union offices were occupied by Storm Troopers and labour leaders arrested; many were sent to labour camps. The New Statesman correspondent C M Lloyd recognised the grim significance of the event, and warned that only the unlikely figure of Benito Mussolini blocked the road to European war.

Selected by Robert Taylor

The knock-out blow administered to the German Trade Unions comes as no surprise. Hopes that the submission of the Labour leaders might save their organisations were clearly doomed. The coup was carried out with remarkable thoroughness. The First of May demonstration was the biggest of its kind ever seen in Germany, and presented Herr Hitler as champion and saviour of the working class.

His lieutenants dotted his i's and crossed his t's in a flamboyant manifesto, proclaiming that "Adolf Hitler is your friend, is fighting for your freedom, will give you bread". It is not to be supposed that the great mass of the four million Trade Unionists are taken in by this rodomontade. But they are - for the time being, and probably for a long time to come - as effectively broken as the Social Democrats and the Communists. The Nazis are very nearly complete masters of the situation. The Government is a coalition only in name; its non-Nazi members are ciphers, and may disappear at any moment.

What is to be the next stage in this triumphant revolution? So far we have had nothing but destruction - the elimination of "Marxism", the hounding down of the Jews, the filching of the States' autonomy and the suppression of private rights. The technique has been at once simple and clever, combining terrorism with a pretence of constitutional forms and appeals to mass emotion. The Terror has been ruthless and widespread, but it has been sufficiently concealed to deceive a great part of the nation into the belief that the outrages reported are nothing but lies put about by Germany's enemies - Frenchmen, Poles, Bolsheviks or "international Jewry". Complete control of the press by the Nazi dictatorship has left the ordinary citizen without any means of knowing what is going on in the Brown Houses, in the concentration camps, or behind his neighbours' doors. He is fed day by day on Hitler's oratory, dazzled with pictures of the glorious German past and promises of a still more glorious future. It is not surprising that he - especially if he is a young student, a small shopkeeper, an impoverished professional man, or an unemployed worker - should be fired with enthusiasm. But enthusiasm cannot be indefinitely maintained on circuses.

The question is whether Hitler knows how to fulfil his promise to give Germany bread. What is his constructive policy? No clear or adequate answer has yet been given. It was expected that his May Day speech would contain a definite programme. But we heard nothing that was new, or looks like solving his economic problems.

There were three prominent items - compulsory labour, public works schemes, and protection of the peasantry. The first of these appears to be mainly an experiment in social discipline. Every young German must perform a period of manual labour service; this will demonstrate the dignity of labour, and help to destroy class prejudice and privilege. But Germany's most pressing trouble is not the idle rich or a contempt for honest work, but the huge army of unemployed poor and their inability to get work.

How far is that to be remedied by item two in the programme? It is the duty of everyone, Hitler declares, to create work, but the only sort he specifies is house repairing and building. The Government also will set going schemes of public works, including road making. With these projects, we have no quarrel. But they are likely to cost a mint of money, which may be difficult to find, and provide employment for a good many fewer people than the more innocent Nazis may suppose.

Item three looks like worsening rather than bettering the situation. No doubt the German farmers, like farmers everywhere else, want higher prices for their corn and bacon and butter. But how much more can the German consumer stand? Already the cost of living hits him hard. Already restriction of imports and retaliatory measures taken by foreign countries have further depressed the German export trades. The motive behind this policy of cherishing the peasantry is primarily political. It is to strengthen the support of the countryside against the urban proletariat.

So far as we can judge, the next stage of the revolution will be disappointment, not fulfilment. If that meant a reaction strong enough to overthrow the Fascist regime in Germany we should heartily desire it. But there is small chance of anything of the sort. While Herr Hitler and his friends terrorise and delude their own country, they are the gravest menace to others. Their foreign policy is not merely an assertion of the legitimate rights of Germany, a demand for the equality which has been promised them and withheld from them. They are deliberately challenging the peace of Europe. They are not simply talking of re-armament; they are re-arming. They can say with perfect sincerity that they do not intend to attack Poland or France or anyone else - today or tomorrow. But they are making preparations. We are faced with the dubious prospect of a disarmament convention which will permit the re-armament of Germany.

All that we can do is to keep our heads; to trust that the martial fury will abate; and to practise a wiser statesmanship than in the past. In that, Mussolini can play a decisive part. He has become, by a grim irony, the chief hope of peace.

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, High-street robbery