It is estimated that over 30,000 Communist and/or Leftist sympathisers lost their lives during the Nazi Regime’s hold on power, many of these individuals suffered not just for their political association with the Nazi’s political nemesis but because they actively participated in resistance to the regime. Yet despite their obvious role in resistance, little is known of their actions and motivations in general. The Communist Resistance has often been dismissed as either being completely abolished by Hitler during his rise to power, or as providing an insignificant level of opposition to the regime.
Although some truth can be found in these ideas, they are not completely accurate. The view that the Communists were abolished as a representative force stems from the KPD’s (German Communist Party) structural demise shortly after Hitler’s rise to power. The KPD did continue to operate underground for a period until its leadership was almost completely liquidated. Many communists, those who may or may not have been official members of the KPD survived and eventually developed a presence of resistance in Germany.
However, legally the KPD did cease to be a force after Hitler entered into power. The Nazis found their lucky charm in the guise of a Dutch Communist by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe. On 27 February 1933 the German Reichstag was set on fire. Mr. van der Lubbe was apparently apprehended at the scene but few people actually believe he was the true culprit. It is most probable that he was set up in some type of ruse. Mr. van der Lubbe had been arrested several days earlier in a bar after exclaiming to the patrons that he had been engaged in arsonist attacks on public buildings.
The size and pattern of the fire suggested to many that other hands were at play. Three Bulgarian Communist were also later implicated in the plot, but later cleared of charges due to a lack of evidence. It most probable that SA stormtroopers engineered the fire. Goering was later said to have boasted about Nazi responsibility for destroying the Reichstag. In any event the Reichstag fire became the means by which the Communist as well as most other political organizations would meet their demise. Hitler seized upon the Reichstag Fire to produce a sense of hysteria among the German Public.
The regime claimed that a bolshevist revolution was underway in Germany and that the communists were attempting to seize power. Hindenburg, then still acting president was pressured into taking action by Hitler and some conservative members of the Reichstag, there was also a likely pressure from industrialist who had long viewed the Communist as a threat. On the day following the fire, Hitler convinced Hindenburg to sign a decree suspending the constitutional rights on civil liberties, the decree stated that:
Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed. Following the decree Nazi Stormtroopers swarmed throughout the streets rounding up communists, destroying party offices, shutting down presses and instilling a sense of terror into the hearts of thousands.
Not only was Hitler able to outlaw his main opposition but he was able to produce a climate of fear that induced a percentage of the population to vote National Socialist. In any event the legal representation of the German Communist Party came to a swift and sudden end. Hitler compounded his hold on power in March of 1933, by following the decree with the “Enabling Act” This act enabled Hitler’s cabinet to legislate all future laws. Although the act was supposedly intended to last only four years it became the means by which Hitler would rule throughout the war years, a constant state of martial law.
Having the power to constitute law, Hitler used the Act to redesign voting procedures, illegalize opposition groups and establish control over all institutional structures. Much of their legal and structural demise can be viewed as self inflicted. The Communist like many other groups are held at least partially responsible for Hitler’s rise to power and his subsequent political victory. Had they been able to see past political differences with the Social Democrats they may have been able to crush the Nazi machine at its’ roots. Accountability can be cast on all political parties in Germany.
In retrospect we can argue endlessly as to whom merits more fault. Communist can be blamed for adding to chaotic conditions in the street warfare that helped breed insecurity among the German people, they can also be blamed for refusing to cooperate with the Social Democrats in forming an alliance against the Nazis during the early elections. The SPD leadership in turn can be held accountable for not utilising its numbers to call for an immediate assault on Nazi members, that its’ reliance on legality helped pave the way for Hitler’s intrigue and manipulations.