Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3.: The Armed Parties - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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3.: The Armed Parties - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
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The Armed Parties
The November Revolution brought a resurgence of a phenomenon that had long before disappeared from German history. Military adventurers formed armed bands or Freikorps and acted on their own behalf. The communist revolutionaries had inaugurated this method, but soon the nationalists adopted and perfected it. Dismissed officers of the old army called together demobilized soldiers and maladjusted boys and offered their protection to the peasants menaced by raids of starving townsfolk and to the population of the eastern frontiers suffering from Polish and Lithuanian guerrilla invasions. The landlords and the farmers provided them in return for their services with food and shelter. When the condition which had made their interference appear useful changed these gangs began to blackmail and to extort money from landowners, businessmen, and other wealthy people. They became a public calamity.
The government did not dare to dissolve them. Some of the bands had fought bravely against the communists. Others had successfully defended the eastern provinces against the Poles and Lithuanians. They boasted of these achievements, and the nationalist youth did not conceal their sympathy for them. The old leaders of the nationalist party were profoundly hostile to these unmanageable gang leaders, who defied their advice and whose heedless actions came into collision with their considered plans. The extortions of the free corps were a heavy burden for the landowners and peasants. The bands were no longer needed as a safeguard against communist uprisings. The Reichswehr, the new army reorganized according to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, was now strong enough for this task. The nationalist champions were quite right in suspecting that the young men who formed these corps hoped to displace them in the leadership of the nationalist movement. They devised a clever scheme for their suppression. The Reichswehr was to incorporate them and thus render them innocuous. As it became more difficult from day to day for the captains of the free corps to provide funds for the sustenance of their men, they were ready to accept this offer and to obey the orders of the army officers.
This solution, however, was a breach of the Treaty of Versailles, which had limited the size of the Reichswehr to a hundred thousand men. Hence conflicts arose with the French and the British representatives. The Allied Powers demanded the total disbandment of the so-called black Reichswehr. When the government, complying, decided to dissolve the most important black troop, the sailors’ Ehrhardt brigade, it hastened the outbreak of the Kapp insurrection.
War and civil war, and the revolutionary mentality of the Marxians and of the nationalists, had created such a spirit of brutality that the political parties gave their organizations a military character. Both the nationalist Right and the Marxian Left had their armed forces. These party troops were, of course, entirely different from the free corps formed by nationalist hotspurs and by communist radicals. Their members were people who had their regular jobs and were busy from Monday to Saturday noon. On week ends they would don their uniforms and parade with brass bands, flags, and often with their firearms. They were proud of their membership in these associations but they were not eager to fight; they were not animated by a spirit of aggression. Their existence, their parades, their boasting, and the challenging speeches of their chiefs were a nuisance but not a serious menace to domestic peace.
After the failure of the revolutionary attempts of Kapp1 in March, 1920, that of Hitler and Ludendorff in November, 1923, and of various communist uprisings, of which the most important was the Holz riot in March, 1921, Germany was on the way back to normal conditions. The free corps and the communist gangs began slowly to disappear from the political stage. They still waged some guerrilla warfare with each other and against the police. But these fights degenerated more and more into gangsterism and rowdyism. Such riots and the plots of a few adventurers could not endanger the stability of the social order.
But the Social Democratic party and press made the blunder of repeatedly denouncing the few still operating nationalist free corps and vehemently insisting on their dissolution. This attitude was a challenge to the nationalist parties who disliked the adventurers no less than the Social Democrats did but did not dare to abandon them openly. They retorted by calling for the dissolution of the communist formations as well. But the Social Democrats were in a similar position with regard to the communist bands. They hated and feared them yet did not want to combat them openly.
As in the Bismarck Reich, so in the Weimar Republic, the main powers of civil administration were not assigned to the government of the Reich but to the governments of the member states. Prussia was the largest and richest member state; its population was the most numerous; it was the Reich’s center of gravity, or, properly speaking, the Reich. The fact that the conservative party had dominated Prussia had given the conservatives hegemony over imperial Germany. The fact that the Social Democrats ruled Prussia under the Weimar Republic made them paramount in the republican Reich. When Chancellor Papen’s coup d’état of July 20, 1932, overthrew the socialist regime in Prussia, the struggle for the Reich was virtually decided.
The Bavarian Government was reluctant to disband the nationalist bands on its territory. It was not sympathy with the nationalists but provincial particularism that determined this attitude. To disobey the central authority was for it a matter of principle. The Government of the Reich was helpless because it had but one means to impose its will on a disobedient member state, namely, civil war. In this plight the Social Democratic Prussian Government took recourse to a fateful measure. On February 22, 1924, in Magdeburg, it founded the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold. This was not a private troop like the other armed party forces. It was an army of Prussia’s ruling party and had the full support of the Prussian Government. An outstanding Prussian functionary, the governor of the province of Saxony, was appointed its chief. The Reichsbanner was to be a nonpartisan association of all men loyal to the republican system of government and the Constitution of Weimar. Virtually, however, it was a Social Democratic institution. Its leaders insisted that members of other loyal parties were welcome in its ranks. But the immense majority of the members were Social Democrats who up to that time had been members of the various local and provincial Social Democratic armed party forces. Thus the foundation of the Reichsbanner did not strengthen the military forces of the Social Democrats; it only gave them a new, more centralized organization and the sanction of the Prussian state. Members of the Catholic Center party were never very numerous in the Reichsbanner and soon disappeared completely from its ranks. The third loyal party, the Democrats, were merely an insignificant affiliate of the Social Democrats.
The Social Democrats have tried to justify the foundation of the Reichsbanner by referring to the nationalist bias of the Reichswehr, the one hundred thousand soldiers who formed the Reich’s army. But the Kapp revolt had demonstrated that the socialists had a very efficacious weapon available to defeat the nationalists in the general strike. The only serious menace for the Weimar Republic was the nationalist sympathies within the ranks of organized labor. The Social Democratic chiefs were unable to work successfully against these tendencies; many secretly sympathized with them.
The ominous import of the foundation of the Reichsbanner was that it provided Hitler with a good start. His Munich putsch of November, 1923, had resulted in complete failure. When he left prison in December, 1924, his political prospects looked black. The foundation of the Reichsbanner was just what he wanted. All the non-Marxians, i.e., the majority of the population, were terrified by the defiant speeches of its chiefs and the fact that at the end of the first year of its existence its membership was three millions—more than the membership of all the Wehrverbände2 of the Right together.* Like the Social Democrats, they overrated the strength of the Reichsbanner and its readiness to fight. Thus a good many people were prepared to aid the Nazi Storm Troopers.
But these Storm Troopers were very different from the other armed party forces both of the Left and of the Right. Their members were not elderly men who had fought in the first World War and who now were eager to hold their jobs in order to support their families. The Nazi Storm Troopers were, as the free corps had been, jobless boys who made a living from their fighting. They were available at every hour of every day, not merely on week ends and holidays. It was doubtful whether the party forces—either of the Left or the Right—would be ready to fight when seriously attacked. It was certain that they would never be ready to wage a campaign of aggression. But Hitler’s troops were pugnacious; they were professional brawlers. They would have fought for their Führer in a bloody civil war if the opponents of Nazism had not yielded without resistance in 1933.
Hitler got subsidies from big business in the first period of his career. He extorted much greater sums from it in the second period of his struggle for supremacy. Thyssen and the rest paid him but they did not bribe him. Hitler took their money as a king takes the tribute of his subjects. If they had refused to give him what he asked, he would have sabotaged their plants or even murdered them. Such drastic measures were needless. The entrepreneurs preferred to be reduced by Nazism to the status of shop managers than to be liquidated by communism in the Russian way. As conditions were in Germany, there was no third course open to them.
Both force and money are impotent against ideas. The Nazis did not owe their conquest of Germany either to their getting a few million Reichsmarks from big business or to their being ruthless fighters. The great majority of the German nation had been both socialist and nationalist for many years. The Social Democratic trade-union members sympathized as much with nationalist radicalism as did the peasants, the Catholics, and the shopkeepers. The communists owed their votes in great part to the idea that communism was the best means to establish German hegemony in Europe and defeat Western capitalism. The German entrepreneurs and businessmen contributed their share to the triumph of Nazism, but so did all other strata of the nation. Even the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were no exception.
Great ideological changes are scarcely explained by saying that somebody’s money was spent in their behalf. The popularity of communism in present-day America, whatever else it may be, is not the result either of the lavish subventions of the Russian Government or of the fact that some millionaires subsidize the newspapers and periodicals of the Left. And though it is true that some Jewish bankers, frightened by Nazi anti-Semitism, contributed to socialist party funds, and that far the richest endowment ever made for the study of the social sciences in Germany was that of a Jewish grain dealer for the foundation of a Marxian institute at the University of Frankfurt, German Marxism nevertheless was not, as the Nazis contend, the product of Jewish jobbers.
The slogan “national solidarity” (Volksgemeinschaft) had got such a hold on the German mentality that nobody dared to resist the Nazis when they struck their final blow. The Nazis crushed the hopes of many groups who once supported them. Big business, the landowners and the farmers, the artisans and the shopkeepers, the churches, all were disappointed. But the prestige of the main items of the Nazi creed—nationalism and socialism—was so overwhelming that this dissatisfaction had no important consequences.
Only one thing could put an end to Nazi rule: a military defeat. The blockade and the bombing of German cities by British and American planes will finally convince the Germans that Nazism is not the best means to make their nation prosperous.
[1. ][Wolfgang Kapp (1858–1922) German revolutionary. Founder of the German Fatherland Party (1917). He was a leader of the March 1920 coup attempt in Berlin known as the Kapp Putsch, which failed because of the socialist general strike. Kapp fled to Sweden, returned to Germany in 1922, and died awaiting trial.—Ed.]
[2. ][Defense alliances.—Ed.]
[* ]Stampfer, Die vierzehn Jahre der ersten Deutschen Republik (Karlsbad, 1936), p. 365.