90th Anniversary of Burning of Reichstag and its relevance today

Reichstag fire

On February 27th it was the 90th anniversary of the fall of the Reichstag, which paved the path to the complete monopoly of German fascism, giving bourgeois democracy a shattering blow. Ninety years ago, on January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed the leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), Adolf Hitler, as chancellor of the German Reich.

The transfer of power to the Nazis had fatal effects. Hitler failed in  establishing the promised 1,000-year Reich, as his reign collapsed  after 12 years, but the crimes committed by his regime during these 12 years traversed  phenomena  in zones unparalleled ,which in effect would have been  more than sufficient for 1,000 years.

Within a few months, the Nazis embarked on a spell of terror that combined the most modern means of propaganda with total surveillance and merciless oppression. They broke the backbone of workers’ organisations and assassinated their leaders and members or placed them in concentration camps designed specifically for this purpose.

They converted Germany, long reputed as a nation of culture and industrial progress, into a an exterminating apparatus r demolishing engine. Six-and-a-half years after Hitler’s appointment as Reich chancellor, his army (Wehrmacht) started World War II with the invasion of Poland. This was followed in the summer of 1941 by the gruesome war of annihilation against the Soviet  Union, which killed 27 million Soviet citizens.

On 21 March 1933, Potsdam Day, President Paul von Hindenburg (right) accepts the appointment of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as German chancellor

The scale of barbarity of the Nazis reached its peak with the industrial extermination of 6 million Jews, as well as of hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma, who were registered, rounded up and transported to extermination camps, where they were selected for the gas chambers and incinerated with bureaucratic thoroughness.

Ten years after Hitler’s coming to power, on 2 February 1943, the defeat of the Wehrmacht by the Red Army at Stalingrad marked a turning point in the war. The war now took an about turn on Germany itself. Hundreds of thousands of civilians perished in the Allied bombing of Germany.

Rehabilitation of Hitler and analogy of NATO with Nazi fascists

For many years thereafter, there was a consensus that such crimes must never be repeated. However the German government is morally celebrating the 90th anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power by deploying German Leopard battle tanks to fight Russia. Its objective is to avenge the defeat at Stalingrad 80 years ago by stage managing the war in Ukraine in order to militarily subjugate Russia.

The NATO High Command has been chalking for months three regional operational plans for the entire alliance area.. US generals are meanwhile probing on whether the war against China—another nuclear-armed power—should begin in two or four years.

Hitler would be thrilled. He would fully support NATO’s offensive and loudly applaud the order to deploy battle tanks and submarines.

The rehabilitation of Hitler in Germany began, in the 1980s, the historian Ernst Nolte The rehabilitation of Hitler was inextricably linked to the revival of German militarism. This is now confirmed by the war in Ukraine. It has served as a pretext for the German government to embark on largest rearmament programme since Hitler. The war was deliberately flared up through NATO’s stubborn eastward expansion and the 2014 coup in Kiev. It is part of a birth of a new polarisation of the world between the imperialist powers, torn by the deep crisis of capitalism. The imperialists’ goal is to break base of Russia, strangle its immense natural resources and encircle China.

This in no way justifies the reactionary Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Putin regime champions the interests of the Russian oligarchs, who dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991 and plundered the socialised property. NATO’s offensive is the price the Russian people are now paying for the destruction of the achievements of the October Revolution of 1917. What Hitler’s tanks were unable to achieve in 1943, Berlin and Washington are trying to achieve with the assistance of NATO and its puppet in Kiev. This can be combated only by a unified movement of the international working class.

The historical phenomena of Hitler’s rise have striking relevance even today. Contrary to what is often claimed, he was not instilled into power by a popular movement against which the defenders of democracy proved powerless. He had no need to capture state power because it was handed to him on a platter by the political, economic and military elites.

When Hitler entered the Reich Chancellery in 1933, the democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic had been devoid of their social base or uprooted.. For three years prior, chancellors had ruled through emergency decrees signed by the Reich president.

Hitler’s NSDAP—which garnered frustrated  World War I officers, petty-bourgeois layers ruined by inflation and economic depression, and other declassed elements under the banner of race and anticommunism—achieved its best election result in the summer of 1932, with 37 percent of the vote. After that, support for the party quickly disintegrated. When new Reichstag elections were held four months later, the two workers’ parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Communist Party (KPD), won significantly more combined votes than the Nazis. The party was facing bankruptcy, and Hitler even contemplated suicide.

In this crisis, the decision was made to empower Hitler by a small conspiratorial circle around Reich President von Hindenburg. Big business and the military signalled their approval. They did not support without gauging his intentions, but because they exactly conceived his motives.

As early as January 1932, Hitler guaranteed top business representatives in a speech to the Düsseldorf Industry Club that he would liquidate an remnants of democracy, suppress the class struggle and “Bolshevism,” and conquer new Lebensraum (living space) for Germany. He reassured them that, despite occasional anti-capitalist rhetoric, the Nazis would not attack private property or pose threat to economical differentiations’. Hitler met with the leaders of the Reichswehr four days after he took over the government to clear up any lingering doubts. After introductory remarks about the importance of the “race,” he promised them an “expansion of the living space of the German people with arms in hand.” He said that as a precondition, “every subversive opinion must be suppressed in the strongest possible way,” and “Marxism must be completely destroyed.”

With their decision for Hitler, capital and the military intervened to the insoluble crisis of capitalism. Constrained in the middle of Europe, dynamic German industry could expand only through violent conquest. For this, the class struggle and workers movement was grounded to the dust.

For the same reason, fascist forces are again receiving patronage today.. Not only in Germany, where the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) sits in parliament and dictates the government line on refugee and domestic policy. Trump’s Republicans in the US and Bolsonaro’s supporters in Brazil have powerful fascist overtones In Italy, Mussolini’s heirs head the government.

The intensity of disparity over recent years has propelled class conflict to a helm. Today a few dozen individuals possess more wealth than the poorer half of humanity. Wealthy representatives of the middle class—the top 10 percent—have multiplied their wealth Today, they constitute the social base for militarism. By contrast, the living standards of the working class have diminished on a scale unparalleled, working conditions are turning almost unbearable, and protests and strikes are escalating worldwide.

This is the objective basis for the fight against war and fascism. In 1933, the 13 million SPD and KPD voters could have checked Hitler. They were ready to fight, but their leaders failed them. appealing to the state and Hindenburg. The German proletariat was strong enough, numerically and politically, to achieve its goal, but the leaders of the working class were unable to rise to the hour.

As was the case 90 years ago, only a movement of the international working class can  check the tide of fascism and militarism.

Description of the Fire

On February 27, 1933, a fire devastated the Reichstag building in Berlin. Despite efforts to save the building, the building was shattered to pieces. Hitler, the new chancellor of Germany, immediately capitalised and placed the blame on the communists – the resulting of fear, chaos and paranoia constituted a vital element for the creation of the Terror state.

After 9pm on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag fire began. It only took a few hours for firefighters to extinguish the fire, but the damage was extensive. Authorities found bundles of flammable material amongst the smoldering ruins, and the fire was immediately deemed an act of arson. Quickly, a 24-year-old Dutch Communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested: he admitted to setting the fire – but maintained that he’d acted alone.

At the time of the fire, the young Weimar Republic was already in peril. Exactly four weeks prior to the blaze, Adolf Hitler had been appointed to the position of chancellor in an attempt by the political establishment to both control and subdue the Nazi movement and to assuage the growing popularity of the communists; the 1932 election had actually seen Nazi support decrease in comparison to their left-wing enemies.

When the fire stormed, Hitler was dining with Goebbels in Berlin. Both men rushed to the scene sensing a golden opportunity. Immediately, the propaganda mechanism operated : the fire was a “sign from God” indicating that the communists and Bolsheviks were on the verge of a widespread communist revolt and only fascist political control could save Germany from Communist revolution.

The widespread fear opened the door for President Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree. This new law abolished most civil liberties in Germany – effectively paving the way for Hitler’s one-party rule of the state. The Nazi takeover was cemented with the Enabling Act, passed a month later, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers. As the result of the blaze, both the Reichstag and the republic went up in smoke.

Despite the fact that van der Lubbe claimed to have acted alone, thousands of communists were imprisoned following the fire, including Ernst Torgler, the Communist Party (KPD) leader. Van der Lubbe, Torgler, and other notable communists were tried in September 1933, but to Hitler’s furor, only van der Lubbe was sentenced to death: the rest were acquitted and expelled to the Soviet Union.

Conspiracy evaluation

The Reichstag Fire was a turning point in history. Before February 27, the Nazis were on the verge of losing grip and the communists were on the rise. After February 27, Hitler had ripped the flesh of the Communist party , and carved the road  for totalitarian control. It was e a stroke of incredibly good luck for the Nazis to have been handed this opportunity on a platter. This all poses the question: were Nazi officials in on it? Did van der Lubbe really act alone?Were Nazi officials in on it? Did van der Lubbe really act alone?

Actually, the majority of modern scholars conclude that van der Lubbe acted alone. This is illustrated by the fact that Nazi officials seemed to be surprised by the fire, and that van der Lubbe was found at the scene of the crime and confessed to acting alone. This consensus view has been in place since the 1960s, when former intelligence officer Fritz Tobias published a major book on the Reichstag Fire.

A serious question arose on how could van der Lubbe, who was partially blind from an accident, have singlehandedly burned the entire Reichstag to the ground? Additionally, a letter from a chemist who was on the scene of the crime noted that the building had been prepared with a fluid accelerant. How could all this have been done by one half-blind 24 year old Dutch communist? This virtually testifies the inconsistencies of the modern scholars .

Analogies of Reichstag burning with Current History

Today in India in another form the 1933 Reichstag burning is resurrected in another form. .Prominent examples are  the Bhimarao Koregaon conspiracy case, victimising Muslims after 1993Mumbai riots to bomb blasts, Burning of train by Bajrang Dal  in Ghodra  riots to blame Muslims , branding of Urban intellectuals like Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde Sudha Bharadwaj ,Executing Operation Greenhunt on pretext of Maoist terror .

Proto-fascsim has been illustrated through events like Repression on  civilians in Kashmir, Sentence on Maruti workers, pardoning to assassins of Shankar Guha Nyugi ,reprieve of persons in  Laxamanpur Bathe massacre ,death sentence to dalits in 1987 Dalechak –Baghaura killings etc. Incidents are distorted to frame genuine democratic activists or movements to bend resistance and justify state violence. Often even the judiciary or Supreme Court has to bow down to the dictates of the saffron rulers. I can’t forget the frequent occasions the naxalites or Kashmiri elements have been falsely held responsible for terror incidents or Muslim activists, particularly in Kashmir. Malegaon blasts are fresh in our memory .Some intellectuals draw similarities between Hitler’s German regime and the Hindutva fascist forces, equating religious intolerance with nation chauvinism. They mark Babri Masjid demolition as a turning point in Indian proto-fascism.

No doubt hard to envisage neo-fascism in India reaching paralleled heights of Hitler and Mussolini with powerful traditions of well entrenched parliamentary system or multi-party structure  ,not as accentuated economic crisis, such diverse range of nationalities and religions ,powerful federal structure etc.Still India has had powerful overtones of Nazism when witnessing the tyranny on Muslim minorities, witch-hunt on so called Maoists, brutal incarceration of revolutionary democratic intellectuals ,communal murders patronised, endorsement of merciless oppression by corporates on farmers and workers ,foreign capital fermenting at uncontrollable level etc. The recent case of Adani illustrates the sheer degeneration of so called neo-liberalism, giving a tycoon complete monopoly.

In Europe on pretext of Islamic terror many Muslim civilians are mercilessly targeted or Turkish immigrants.9/11 incident was used to target not only the Muslim community in America, but liberal activists.

Worldwide democrats have to guard against the resurrection of the 1933 Reichstag, with globalisation sponsoring designs of neo-fascism at a helm, in times of most acute economic crisis ever.Neo-Nazi groups are sprouting to engulf many parts of Europe. On pretext of controlling war many neo-liberal European countries are suppressing democratic protests, endorsement of merciless oppression by corporates on farmers and workers etc.

Democrats have to seriously study writings of Marxists like George Dmitrov or Premier Zhou En Lai on fascism or other Marxist Leninist analysis on the phenomena of fascism germinating in Germany and Italy or later victory of General Franco in Spanish Civil War. There is a trend of Trotskyites to unfairly slander Stalin and the Comintern, for defeat of the German Communists, which is most un-Marxist, and fails to respect the prevailing social situation. Historians have to undergo more penetrative research on the genesis of the rise of Hitler or social conditions sowing its seeds, mistakes of Communist movement or parties etc.A Marxist-Leninist strategy has to be devised to check and confront the tide of neo-fascism worldwide.

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has extensively studied International Communist Movement and Liberation struggles


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