July 14, 1933 – In Germany, all political parties are outlawed except the Nazi Party
Trump’s presidency reminds me of a word fraught with dark meaning: Gleichschaltung. It literally means synchronization or ”to bring into line”, but it refers to the process in Nazi Germany that ensured political conformity ”in all sectors, from the economy and trade associations to the media, culture, and education”. Gleichschaltung in Nazi terminology was the process of Nazification by which Adolf Hitler successively established a system of totalitarian control and coordination over all aspects of German society from the economy and trade associations to the media, culture and education.
The Nazis were able to put Gleichschaltung into law because of the legal measures taken by the government during the 20 months following the start of 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
Hitler used the emergency powers of the Weimar Constitution to suspend most citizen rights provided for by the constitution which allowed for the arrest of political adversaries and for terrorizing political rivals by the SA (the Nazi paramilitary force) before the upcoming November election.
By the Nuremberg Rally of 1935, the symbols of the Nazi Party and the German State were fused, and German Jews were deprived of their citizenship.
Gleichschaltung meant stamping out unions and political parties hostile to the Nazis, while other institutions like the church and education systems were co-opted into vehicles for Nazi ideology.
You might think it is farfetched, but with the Trump administration, it is not that hard to find signs of the need for control and conformity across everything POTUS touches. That includes clamping down on communications by federal employees, publishing weekly lists of the crimes committed by ”aliens”, threatening to withhold federal money from sanctuary cities, telling the EPA to remove climate change language from its website, launching an investigation into voter fraud despite widespread agreement that none exists to explain why Trump didn’t win the popular vote, attempts to delegitimize the media which challenges his version of the facts, denigrating the FBI, even Trump’s frantic tweeting about slights real and imagined. All of it is part of a Steve Bannon / Stephen Miller plan: Reform the political landscape around POTUS’s world view.
Gleichschaltung serves as a signal word to remind us to be extremely wary of Trump executive orders that foreclose any difference of opinion and prescribes what is and is not acceptable knowledge or expression.
Am I off base to be concerned that the current administration and the Republican collaborators in Congress will look for a way to suspend the 2020 election?
The Nazis called for parliamentary elections for November 1933. Since the Nazi Party was the only legal party in Germany, voters were presented with a single list containing Nazis and 22 pro-Nazi “guests”. To whip up nationalist sentiment, the Nazis intentionally timed the election to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the end of WW I. Compelled to vote in less than secret circumstances, 92.1% the electorate voted in favor of the Nazis, thereby formally replacing the Reichstag elected eight months earlier with a rubberstamp legislature. A referendum on German withdrawal from the League of Nations was held on the same day under the same circumstances and passed with 95.1% support.
Beginning in July 1933, and continuing afterwards, there was a systematic elimination of non-Nazi organizations that could potentially influence people. Those critical of Hitler and the Nazis were suppressed, intimidated or murdered.
Every national voluntary association, and every local club, was brought under Nazi control, from sports associations, choirs, and women’s organizations, the whole fabric of life was Nazified. Politically organizations were merged into a single Nazi body. Organizations expelled leftish or liberal members and declared their allegiance to the state and its institutions. The entire process went on all over Germany and within a few years, the only non-Nazi associations left were Christian churches.
An important part Gleichschaltung was the purging of Federal and state level employees. Civil servants were replaced if they weren’t sympathetic to the Nazi program, and Nazification took place at every level. Civil servants rushed to join the Nazi Party, fearing that if they did not they would lose their jobs. At the local level, mayors and councils were terrorized by Nazi stormtroopers of the SA and SS into resigning or follow orders to replace officials and workers who were Jewish or belonged to other political parties.
When the newly elected Reichstag (parliament) first convened in spring 1933, it passed the Enabling Act. This legislation gave Hitler the right to make laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The entire Weimar Constitution was basically rendered void. Soon afterwards, the government banned the Social Democratic Party, which had voted against the Act. By summer, the other political parties had been intimidated into dissolving themselves rather than face arrests and concentration camps and all non-Nazi ministers of the government were compelled to resign their posts.
During the debate on the Enabling Act, Social Democrat Otto Wels spoke the last free words in the Reichstag:
“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honor. We are defenseless but not honorless.”
The Gleichschaltung also included the formation of organizations with compulsory membership for segments of the population, especially the youth of Germany. By 1936, membership in the Hitler Youth was six million.
Recreational organizations for workers, called Kraft Durch Freude (“Strength Through Joy”) sprung up, hobbies were regimented, and all private clubs were brought under the control of Kraft Durch Freude which provided vacation trips, skiing, swimming, concerts and cruises. With more than 25 million members, it was the largest of the many organizations established by the Nazis.
In August 1933, Otto Wels was stripped of his citizenship. He then worked to help build a Resistance Movement, first in Prague, then in Paris, where he died in 1939.