Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why Am I Optimistic About New Universities in India?

University making in India is entering a new phase. The rushed expansion of the Higher Education system is perhaps over, with many of those new colleges and universities in crisis. There is a definitive shift in the regulatory environment: The unrestrained and often useless Distance Learning Study Centre business has been effectively shut down, the unregulated institutions have been challenged and there is greater clarity and order. However, university making in India has not stopped - there are new institutions being built and planned every day - and more and more serious philanthropists and entrepreneurs are entering the fray. I see these developments with some optimism, and believe that we are at an inflexion point, from which a new Higher Education system would emerge.

This may be overtly optimistic and there are a number of things that can go wrong in India. For a start, we now have a nationalist turn, and the 'not-invented-here' syndrome has become all pervasive. That regulators have become more effective is a good thing, but the regulatory structure is bureaucratic and punitive, and the regulators are often used to carry out a political agenda. Many new universities are tottering on the brink of failure - a recent one has just enrolled less than 10 students - which is not a good thing for the sector as a whole. And, though the business of Distance Learning helped to create 'diploma mills' and undermined the overall credibility of Indian education, the current regulation is meant to take distance out of distance learning, and rule out any online learning innovation for years. However, the changes signify that Indian Higher Education would stop being a 'market for lemons' - a marketplace where corrupt operators thrive and can marginalise or drive out the more honest ones - and sheer demographic logic would ensure that Higher Education sector continues to grow, with more serious operators.

From the statements I made above, it is also quite clear that I see Indian Higher Education to be a 'mixed' sector, perhaps with more private institution than public ones. I know this isn't how one would perceive growing a Higher Education system, at least in Western Europe. In India, however, this is the way the rapid growth of Higher Education will have to be achieved. And, indeed, Private Higher Education growth does not have to be For-Profit, subservient to the analyst sentiments and stock markets in a get-rich-quick country: There is enough private wealth in India that can fund Not-for-Profit institutions and enough inventiveness to channel other sources of 'patient capital' into more socially responsive forms of organisation. But, overall, the sector will be driven by private initiative and enterprise, just like the Japanese or the Korean Higher Education systems (and like the modern-day developments in Chinese Higher Education).

Also, in India, the key challenge has been all-out vocationalism in all parts of the Higher Education system, accentuated by rapid expansion of Engineer and Business schools that came to overwhelm it. I say this not as a purist believing in 'Education for Education's sake' but rather by being aware of the danger of vocationalism, which focuses the mind too much on the immediate outcome - a job - at the cost of the long term perspectives. Higher Education, an once in a lifetime activity (for most people), should afford someone, particularly in today's world, an ability to adjust with changing realities; Indian schools hardly attempt to do this, organising themselves solely for an entry-level job. This is ineffective for several reasons: The supply-demand asymmetry means that only a few students are eventually successful while other sectors and jobs go unfulfilled; and this makes for poor progression, which means that the labour market is flooded with poorly skilled people who can't move up, making it more difficult for the newcomers.  On top of this, with deep structural changes in global commerce which threatens Indian IT Services industry, this system is totally out of sync, and its graduates are struggling to find jobs.

However, it would be wrong to assume that vocationalism in Indian Higher Education is a private university problem: It was part of the origin story of modern Indian Higher Education, and even in Independent India, Higher Education was never slated to take the responsibility of making citizens (as in the United States). It is only now that a conversation about Indianness is focusing minds on what role the universities should play, though this conversation, at least so far, is conducted in a tone and style unwelcoming to critical enquiry and new thinking. However, such conversations open the possibility, even if it is just a possibility, of new thinking and new models.

The big opportunity in India, in the next decades, will be in the domestic market, as the reform programmes such as value-added taxation, infrastructure building and rapid expansion of digital services (India has added 100 million new Internet users in the last 12 months) would create many entrepreneurial and job opportunities. This would need a new imagination, which the narrowly focused schools, living in a bubble of testing and campus placements, sorely lack. And, surely an M Sc in Innovation from a school which don't want to break the mould and don't want to commit itself to anything new is a clear non-starter. This is where the big change indeed is: The new universities emerging in India are looking at the Post-IT world more intently than the previous generation of the universities, and they are taking on the challenge of innovation more willingly than their predecessors. 

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to engage in different conversations about new universities being planned and set up, and the differences are quite clear: The conversations are very much about innovation and differentiation, about putting together high calibre management teams, about planning ahead strategically and defining scale and scope appropriately. It may seem strange to more established universities, but these are new things for Indian universities: The enterprise, thus far, was opportunistic, and were run by uninspired retirees closed to new ideas. My recent engagements tell me this is changing, and I am very excited to be part of these new projects.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Return Path: Making Reverse Migration Work

As much as we, expats, try to deny it, we are at an inflexion point. The great global wave of migration, that set off in the 90s and that many of us leave home and settle abroad, is beginning to ebb. And, this is not just about a Trump or a Theresa May, not just about some kinds of Visas becoming more difficult to obtain. This is as much about a cultural turn - street-level nastiness combined with resurgent national identities - that marks an ending, as well as a beginning, that we should take note of. 

This isn't unprecedented - global movement of people always ebbs and flows - but this time, it appears to be the start of a long term trend, a reversal of opportunities driven by growth in the other side of the world. The emerging markets may have been a mixed bag in the past, but we are perhaps entering the phase of relatively closed economics, which would make the large markets - such as India or Indonesia - a great receptor of local innovation. And, even in the markets where not-invented-here syndromes were strong in the past, like India, the demand for global standards and service levels is now ever higher. This is driven by reverse migration itself, but also as the awareness have risen through diffusion of ideas and imagery, as well as, perhaps ironically, because the barriers between countries are becoming more prominent.

What makes this emerging-market opportunity even more significant is that many of these economies are slated to undergo significant structural change in the coming years. This is partly because of the structural change in global trade - once the easy globalisation is over, a lot of new formats would have to be created to compensate for it - but also because of the technological transformation of the societies. 

Once the cost-arbitrage models of contract manufacturing or IT services are challenged, many of these economies have to readjust to newer models, with expanded manufacturing for local demand, digitisation of local services, and greater South-South trade facilitating what is going to be a painful process.

In this, the technological change is both going to cause trouble and help. At one level, the process of automation wouldn't be denied forever: The abundance of labour is no guarantee of low labour costs, as social and political frameworks rule out a return to Dickensian England or to the imagined nirvana of perfect market societies. But as automation eats up jobs, the process would also create opportunities for creating new products and services for domestic consumption, and when skill levels rise, for global competition. 

Overall, therefore, I am arguing that this is a great moment for reverse migration, not just because the visa changes would force some people to return, but because structural changes would create opportunities for others, who may not be disadvantaged by the visa changes but just disturbed by the cultural turn or inspired by the new economic opportunities. 

Now, I have been engaged in this conversation for far too long to have a rose-tinted view of the process of reverse migration. It is not easy. The countries themselves often don't want the people back: They demand fairer political systems, better public services and disrupt societies with their foreign habits, all the while their nice little remittances, which help the currency and allow the rich to buy their Land Rovers, disappear. Even the relatives too don't like it too much: Closeness, however sweet, makes the longing wear off pretty soon, while special gifts become rarer. The nostalgia about homeland, for the returnee, often lasts a few seconds on arrival, as everyone seems predatory and the imagined warmth fails to materialise. Worse, as they walk into workplaces, a kind of reverse nationalism hits them - they are derided as anti-nationals as they chose to stay abroad and fools as they chose to return.

There are economic arguments to be made why countries should welcome the returnees, which are rather identical to those to be made to the countries where they are returning from. These migrants bring skills and expertise, financial and intellectual capital and, most importantly, a new way of looking at the world. They often bring ideas that could be of big help in the inevitable structural transition of the economies. 

However, it is also important to think about what the returnees should do themselves to help this process. Often, the process of going back is all too abrupt, and all too disruptive because one did not want to give up the lifestyle of faster Internet and easier commute. Most returnees, therefore, do a disservice to themselves as they return, forever complaining about the inhospitability of the terrain, resenting the work environment and being too quick to proclaim their foreign heritage and specialness.

My point is indeed to change the conversation and make the process of return a deliberate, engaged and entrepreneurial process. Some returnees are well placed to do it this way - and those who do it, they are usually very successful in their return. The point is to think of this as a two-way process: Taking one's own country for granted isn't a very intelligent way to return. (And, since I have met many migrants who sought to go back for their mothers and came back double-quick because of their mother-in-laws, I suggest to prospective returnees a 'mother-in-law' approach: When returning, one should not treat their homeland as their mother, all forgiving and forever waiting for their return, but rather like the mother-in-law, where one needs to earn acceptance every single day).

So, in conclusion: We may be at the start of a new age of reverse migration, connected with the great rebalancing of the economies. Those who return are not the failed carpetbaggers of a bygone age, but those who may play an active role in constructing the future. The return is really the start, a process that would create new opportunities if one is looking for it. However, only those who return with humility and not entitlement, with imagination and not fixed mindsets, and with an urge to build and not one to sit back and enjoy, would inherit the future.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

History Essays: Nation As An Imagination and History of Italian Risorgimento


“Nationalism is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of Nineteenth Century” is the opening statement of Elie Kedourie’s history of the idea of Nationalism. One may debate with the categorisation of Nationalism as a doctrine, its European origins and the dating of the idea to Nineteenth century, but its impact on creating a politics of a new kind, and that “nationalism is now obviously a worldwide phenomenon, vitally affecting both the material and intellectual development of modern civilisation”, is perhaps easier to agree with.

However, it is perhaps also easy to be in agreement with Walter Bagehot, who reportedly said that nation is a phenomena we understand as long as we are not asked to explain it. The ubiquity of nation states, and the common acceptance of the idea of nationhood as the legitimate, and the only legitimate, principle of statehood, at least since the ‘Wilsonian Moment’ of Autumn 1918, somewhat obscure the contested nature of the historical debates on the origins and the nature of the ‘nation’, and its role in historical transformations.

Anthony Smith have identified three fundamental debates that shaped the historiography of nationalism as
  1. Whether national communities are organic and historical, or voluntarist and brought into being by deliberate political action between the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries;
  2. Whether the awareness of a nation as a large community has long historical roots or brought about by changes with industrial capitalism and rise of the secular political orders;
  3. whether the idea of a nation is a modern social construction brought about by a ‘national’ elite, or such ideas emerged over a long period of time through a connection between the ‘national present’ and an ‘ethnic past’.

This essay purports to explore the role of one particular idea of nationhood, that as an ‘imagined community’, from Benedict Anderson’s eponymous book first published in 1983, in the historical debates about the rise of Nation States, giving particular attention to the historiography of Risorgimento and Italian nationhood.

The idea of ‘imagined community’ attempts to offer a ‘general theory’ of nations and nationhood, taking a ‘social constructionist’ approach and attempts to arrive at explanations of nationalism in emotive and cultural terms. This essay would begin by briefly tracing the origins of the idea within the broad spectrum of theories about nationhood and nation-states, before exploring the contours of the idea itself and its influence on historiography.

Genealogy of the Idea

Hans Kohn, writing in 1945, saw the origins of Nationalism within the socio-political changes in the second half of the Eighteenth century, in the changing ideas about popular sovereignty, with the help of ‘a new natural science and of natural law as understood by Grotius and Locke’, and transformation of the economic life with ‘the rise of the third estate’. While he situated the appeal of nationalism in ‘some of the oldest and most primitive feelings of man’, like ‘love of his birthplace or the place of his childhood sojourn, its surroundings, its climate, the contours of hills and valleys, of rivers and trees’, it was the differences in economic progress and influences of the ‘third estate’, or the commoner and its most influential representatives, the bourgeoisie, that obviated the rise of two different strands of nationalist ideology.

Where the third estate became powerful in the eighteenth century - as in Great Britain, in France, and in the United States - nationalism found its expression predominantly, but never exclusively, in political and economic changes. Where, on the other hand, the third estate was still weak and only in a budding stage at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as in Germany, Italy, and among the Slavonic peoples, Nationalism found its expression predominantly in the cultural field. Among these peoples, at the beginning it was not so much the nation-state as the Volksgeist and its manifestations in literature and folklore, in the mother tongue, and in history, which became the centre of attention of nationalism.

The ideas of ‘cultural nationalism’ have historical roots in the late eighteenth century ‘cultural populism’ of the German philosopher, Johann Gottfried Herder, writing in the late Eighteenth century, as he broke away from the enlightenment tradition of universal reason and cosmopolitanism. While Herder accepted an equality between the cultures, he ‘saw it to be ‘part of God’s plan that we experience the world in organic groups, that the “people” are the natural repository of authentic experience, and that vernacular language and culture are the authentic expressions of our collective identity and experience.’

Opposed to this were the voluntaristic, political ideals of the nineteenth century nation, which found its most eloquent expression in an 1882 lecture by the French linguist, Ernest Renan:
A nation is therefore a large scale solidarity, constituted by the feelings of the sacrifices one has made in the past and of those one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarised, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as the individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life.”

The tension between the Organic and Cultural Communities and Voluntaristic Polity were noticeable in the early Nationalist literature. Smith observes that Fichte and the German Romantics gave a political dimension to Organic nationalism by arguing that ‘true freedom consists in the absorption of individual self-determining wills in the collective Will of the community or the State.’  This was to be achieved through ‘correct’ education in the vernacular language and national struggle, to make individuals strive towards their ‘authentic self’.

It is at this point that these different, continental, strands of ideas about nationhood stood in contrast to the Whig, and American Republican, ideals of individual liberty and democracy, and were rooted in a revolutionary ethic of subjecting individual will to the community in search of an ‘essence’ as the basis of sovereignty. Lord Acton, writing in 1862. noted this, and said as much: “Nationality does not aim either at liberty or prosperity, both of which it sacrifices to the imperative necessity of making the nation the mould and the measure of the state. Its course will be marked by material as well as moral ruin..” In Acton’s vision, the State was different from the nation, which was ‘merely natural’ and it is the state which was to impose a progressive moral purpose on the chaotic world of nationality.

The ideas of nations and nationalism were also antithetical to the Marxist ideas, which presupposed a cosmopolitan culture to emerge with advancement from Capitalism to socialism. But on the fringes of the broad Marxist-Socialist tradition, important ideas about nations and nationhood emerged in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. For example, Georges Sorel, French radical syndicalist whose ideas would influence the European fascists, explored the appeal of myths in people’s ideas and that arguing that industrial progress might make national myths more appealing to the Proletariat rather than making them more class conscious and ready for revolution. At the other end of Europe, Otto Bauer, the Austrian Socialist, wrote Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie (1907) exploring the nationality question, arguing that Nations were historical creations, a product of intermingling of many ethnic communities, and necessitated by the Great Transformation, the dissolution of ancient, isolated communities into the modern industrial societies, and brought into being by a solidarity built around literacy-based high culture.  

After the Second World War, as the Actonian nightmare came true, John Dunn was writing ‘Nationalism was the starkest political shame of the twentieth century’ and commentators were writing deeply suspicious tracts about the idea and politics of nationalism. At the same time, nation-building assumed a different dynamic with the success of national liberation movements in Asia and Africa, and new countries coming into being as nation-states. The national identity and ideals also assumed an emancipatory dimension in Eastern Europe, where the tensions between the Soviet domination and ethnic politics were clearer.

In the 1960s, the lines in the debate about nationalism were very clearly drawn. Elie Kedourie was writing about ‘Politics of A New Style’, defining Nationalism as one that ‘pretends to supply a criterion for the determination of the population proper to enjoy a government exclusively its own’. Around the same time, two Czech thinkers, Miroslav Hroch in Charles University in Prague and Ernest Gellner at the LSE in London, were writing very different sociological tracts about the origins of nationalism: Hroch was arguing about the existence of ‘large communities’ through ancient trading links and markets prefiguring later nations, and Gellner was looking for roots of nationalism in modernity and dissolution of the isolated communities. While Gellner’s account focused on sociological processes and had little consideration for national cultures, Hroch treated the nations as anthropologically formed and looked in national cultures and identities for explanation of persistence of nations.

If Acton proved prescient by wars of the Twentieth century, the dissolution of the Empire and the transformation of British Commonwealth into Commonwealth of nation states seemed to point to a transformation of the politics of nationalism into a legitimate organising principle of the states. Even India, a vast project overarching a myriad of nationalities constructed around Actonian imagination, was meant to be very much a nation state, with its founding generation, myths and symbols of nationhood. In Liberal imagination, the Republican Patriotism is meant to combine civic pride and institutional commitments in place of ethnocultural nationalism, and yet this falls short of an explanation how this could possibly build large scale solidarities that a modern nation needs to build.

Persistence and the success of nationalism, as evident in the emergence of new nation states in Asia and Africa and the acceptance of new nation states by the working classes in these countries, prompted new explorations within Marxist historiography as well. A particular problematic was the ‘nationalist’ wars between Vietnam and China in the late 70s, which underlined the need to explain these conflicts using explanations other than the class war.  

It is within this broad context, the ‘cultural turn’ in the ideas about nations should be seen. An important contribution was that of Eric Hobsbawm and his colleagues, who argued that Nationalist ideas and conceptions emerged in the 1830s as a mass democratic and political nationalism in Western Europe and North America, followed by an ethno-linguistic nationalism in the smaller countries of Southern, Central and Eastern Europe in the following decades. It is in this later period, Hobsbawm argued, one could see an ‘Invention of Tradition’, statues, national festivals, an elite-led ‘myth-making’, of ‘creating an ancient past beyond effective historical continuity, either by semi-fiction (Boadicea, Vercingetorix, Arminius the Cheruscan) or by forgery (Ossian, the Czech medieval manuscripts).’ Hobsbawm argued that the “comparatively recent historical phenomenon, the ‘nation’, with its associated on exercises in social engineering which are often deliberate and often innovative”.  

The ‘Imagined Community’

The idea of nation as an ‘Imagined Community’ should be seen in the context of this ‘cultural turn’ and perhaps specifically as a response to the ‘invented tradition’ within the Marxist historiography. The basic thesis here is that ‘ well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind’ Positing ‘nation’ as an ‘imagined political community’, which is both limited territorially and sovereign politically, Anderson’s basic argument is that this ‘imagination’ is not fabrication and based on falsity, but rather a creative realisation of the existence of a broader community beyond one’s immediate surroundings, as a ‘deep. Horizontal comradeship’.

The idea of ‘imagined community’ is attempting to address several problematics that arose out of Liberal and Marxist historiographies of nation and nationhood. Why, to question the Liberal idea of State as a rational entity focused on liberty and prosperity, would someone be prepared to die for the country, when doing so for Liberal Party would be unthinkable? Also, the Marxist problematic, why do nations persist despite the advancement of Capitalist state, as well as the uncomfortable reality of self-declared Communist States of China and Vietnam going to war with each other, needed an explanation beyond the class-based identities.

Anderson traces the origin of the idea of the nation to the disintegration of the religious communities and dynastic realms. However, for him, it is not enough, as some Modernists would argue, to simply think that ‘nation’ grew into the void left by the decline of religion and dynastic states, with the associated ‘sacred communities, language and lineage’. Instead, he looks for cultural explanations - particularly, in the modern conception of ‘chronological time’ and a new conception of ‘simultaneity’, in which instead of the past, future and the present blending together, as it does in ‘messianic time’ of the medieval age, one recognises the parallel existences of others who we may never meet, and yet whose actions, interests and existences interplay with one’s own. This conception of ‘homogenous, empty time’, argues Anderson, is the result of the new economic life, ‘print capitalism’ propelling new cultural engagements through novels and newspapers, enabling the possibility of an ‘imagined community’, a ‘comradeship’ with people who one may never meet, but whose parallel lives are lived along her own and whose interests and ideas she can share.

Nations as imagined communities, then, are presumed to have its roots in the Sixteenth century convergence of Printing and Capitalism, and emergence of ‘Print Languages’ that could be read by people within a particular geographic territory, thus creating communities which cut across political boundaries of the time, defined by various courts and their languages. Nations as a political form, in Anderson’s view, arise between 1760 and 1830, predating the French Revolution, and as work of creole elite in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Spanish America. The economic change, liberal republicanism, and enlightenment ideas had an impact on the growth of national consciousness, which were, it must be noted, led by men who spoke the language of the Colonial power, Spanish in Spanish America or English in the Thirteen colonies, they were fighting against.

This model of American Nation States then become a model for popular vernacular based movements in Europe, which ‘pirated’ the model of nation state and were influenced by the ideas of the French revolution, from the ‘second decade of the nineteenth century’. As Anderson observes
If we consider the character of these newer nationalisms which, between 1820 and 1920, changed the face of the old world, two striking features mark them off from their ancestors. First, in almost all of them ‘national print languages’ were of central ideological and political importance, whereas Spanish and English were never issues in the revolutionary Americas. Second, all were able to work from visible models provided by their distant, and after the convulsions of the French revolution, not so distant, predecessors.

The advent of ‘popular nationalism’ created a tension between nationalism and imperialism, as the imperial expansions of the major European powers and nation-formation in countries such as England, Russia and France were proceeding alongside. This gave rise to ‘Official Nationalism’, where a ‘national realm’ was nurtured at the core of worldwide multinational empires. This is why, explains Anderson, while “Slovaks were Magyarized, Indians Anglicized, and Koreans Japanified, but they would not be permitted to join pilgrimages which would allow them to administer Magyars, Englishmen, or Japanese.. The reason for all this was not simply racism; it was also the fact that at the core of the empires nations too were emerging - Hungarian, English, and Japanese. And these nations were also instinctively resistant to ‘foreign’ rule.”

It is a combination of all three types of nationalism that supplied the model for later nationalisms of Asia and Africa, whose leaders would ‘deploy civil and military educational systems modelled on official nationalism’s; elections, party organisations, and cultural celebrations modelled on popular nationalisms of nineteenth century Europe; and the citizen-republican idea brought into the world by the Americas’. These colonial states, argue Anderson, were based on the colonial imagination - so much so that the new nation states almost identically resemble the old Colonial territories - and this colonial imagination was built around the three artefacts of the colonial rule, Census, Map and Museums. “Map and census shaped the grammar which would in due course make possible ‘Burma’ and ‘Burmese’, ‘Indonesia’ and ‘Indonesians’. But the concretization of these possibilities - concretizations which have a powerful life today, long after the colonial state has disappeared - owed much to the colonial state’s peculiar imagining of history and power.”

Anderson’s world-historical analysis of the nation state as an ‘imagined community’ allows the conversation about nation-states to move forward beyond various dichotomies of culture versus politics, intentionalism versus structure, modernism versus perennialism to one which is based on historical continuity and human agency at the same time. At this point, it may be worthwhile to turn to the historical debates about Italian Risorgimento, and explore how the idea of Imagined Community, and the associated conceptions such as ‘Deep Images’, has contributed to the debate.

Risorgimento Contested

The Italian Risorgimento, or Resurgence, is usually considered a defining phase in the Italian history, like the American or French Revolutions and German Unification for the respective nation states. And, just like the French, German and American events, Risorgimento has a special place in the literature of nationalism, and some of its key leaders, Mazzini, Cavour and Garibaldi, were well known both in their time as well as to the posterity as men who built a nation. However, its canonical place in history did not deter historians from questioning the origin, nature and legacy of the Risorgimento, and its historiography has produced a rich and dynamic study of how ideas about nations and nationalism have played a role in understanding of this historical phase, over time.

The Risorgimento, or Resurgence (1815 - 60), was meant to be a period of resurrecting Italy’s glorious past over an imperfect present, a time of division, foreign occupation, and moral decay. However, after the Italian unification in 1860, when the resurgence failed to materialise and political divisions and economic deprivation continued, the period of Risorgimento itself became the subject of political division and debate, and Italy’s ‘failure to resurge’ and Italian ‘peculiarities’ became the subject of much historical analysis.

After the First World War, collapse of Liberalism and Fascist take-over, the reassessment of Risorgimento history came from two opposite directions, from the idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce and the imprisoned Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci.
For Croche, who published his analysis in 1928, the objective was to defend the achievements of the Historic Right (Desta Storica) of Risorgimento and Italian Unification, whose leaders were presented as ‘a spiritual aristocracy of loyal and upright gentlemen’. For Croche, Italian Fascism had no connection with the Risorgimento, but it was rather an anomaly made possible by the war.

Gramsci, who was influenced by Croche, and whose account would not be published till 1949, nonetheless saw the Risorgimento history in a completely different light. For Gramsci, the Risorgimento was a ‘passive revolution’, marked by a betrayal of the Mazzinian Radical Democrats by the Conservative Liberals who worked with the existing Feudal order. For Gramsci, this was the reason for the ‘breach between Italian Polity and Italian Civil Society’, which caused political instability and social disorder. Fascism arose out of this rupture, argued Gramsci, as a weak bourgeoisie attempted to reorganise the political system and stop a socialist revolution.

The view of Risorgimento as a period of nationalist resurgence under the benevolent liberal leadership, as argued by Croche and others, were already under attack since soon after Italian unification. The Risorgimento leaders were seen more as ‘realists’ rather than ‘nationalists’ and particularly Cavour, along with Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck, was seen to be a pioneer of a realpolitik of state-making. The success of Italian unification was seen more in terms of balancing of the Great Powers, than a nationalist triumph. This view surfaced again in the 1950s and 1960s, in forming a new ‘realist’ orthodoxy about the history of Risorgimento. Denis Mack Smith, while challenging the accounts of Cavour’s realism, argued that the leader was inept as well as cynical in his political ambitions and actions. For the realists, the Italian Unification of 1860 had little to do with national feelings and awareness, but rather this was traditional state-making with little regard to any nationalistic aspiration. Also, with the post-war discomfiture with nationalism, alongside the availability of new archival sources such as Cavour’s correspondence, the historical attention shifted to political and dynastic politics and diplomatic history and away from the ideas of nationhood. While many of these historians rejected Mack Smith’s negative judgements, they shifted away from the grand narrative of ‘nationalism’ as implied in earlier liberal accounts such as Croche’s.

On the left, the Gramscian perspective was deeply influential and the focus shifted to the divisions between the Liberals and the Mazzinians, and on divisions inside the Mazzinian movement itself. The dynamics of political programmes, rather than any account of Risorgimento or the Italian Unification, dominated the Marxist-Gramscian analysis of history of Restoration Italy. From the Marxist-Gramscian perspective, Risorgimento increasingly came to be seen as a movement of the elites, disconnected from the poor, the peasants or the working classes, with political change being brought about by wider social and economic change. These accounts, while treating national movement as an account of political conflict and its legends and heroes with suspicion, held the weakness of the middle classes was the root cause of the weakness of Italian unification.

In the 1980s, a new revisionist history of Italian unification emerged, rejecting all accounts of nationalism and national unification, and focusing instead on the persistence of the local identities. While the revisionist historians rejected the Marxist argument of capitalist development as explanation of social change in Italy on account of regional variations, they prioritised social and economic history over political analysis and produced ‘a rich, varied and complex picture of changing societies, whose politics and identities were unaffected by any notion of the national.’

However, this very approach invigorated a new debate about Italian National Identity, as it failed to satisfactorily answer a number of questions:
For if the political odds were so obviously stacked against them, how and why did the opposition elites struggle to create a united Italy? How, in an Italy characterised by municipal interests, traditional loyalties and separate economies, did the nationalists win the argument against the Restoration rulers?  How was resistance to change transformed into an appearance of a consensus in its favour? Moreover, if Italy was oblivious to nationalist sentiment, how can the fame and popularity of Garibaldi be explained? And why did Cavour perceive an advantage in manipulating nationalist opinion? Finally, if there was no economic or political logic to national unification, what made it happen?

Italy As An Imagined Community

The ‘unintended consequence’ of the revisionist histories of Risorgimento was a search for the roots of Italian identity. Even if Italy was not a political entity until after 1860, a sense of Italian-ness was prevalent among a small educated elite, and culture, rather than politics or economics, defined this ‘nation-ness’. After the French Revolution and subsequent French occupation, the language and iconography of revolution pervaded the Italian-ness, and the repression of the revolutionary politics by Restoration rulers failed to suppress the popular imagination of Italy in the arts. Alberto Banti’s ‘Risorgimento Canon’, “some forty texts through which.. The future young patriots of Italy ‘discover’ the nation, and ‘understand that it is necessary to fight for her’”. Riall writes
For Banti, there is a single continuum which ties the images, metaphors and narratives of these texts to the national-patriotic discourse of Risorgimento politics. In Risorgimento texts and the political rhetoric of Italian nationalists the nation is imagined in similar ways: a voluntary pact amongst a free and equal fraternity; an organic community; an extended family; and a shared historical identity.

Banti, who was deeply influenced by the ‘cultural turn’ in the ideas of nationalism, as is perhaps evident above, published his La Nazione del Risorgimento in 2000, which marked a new turn in Risorgimento historiography. This idea of culture as the ‘binding force’ allowed them to overcome the issues of political competition, focusing instead on ‘a single way to think about the nation’. Also,
[T]he attention to culture - as opposed to social structure or high politics, and the treatment of culture as a variable independent of both - leads to a crucial reappraisal of of Italian nationalism’s reach and importance. The Risorgimento, according to Banti and Ginsborg, ‘was a mass movement’.

This approach led to research in pre-Risorgimento Italian Literary and artistic public sphere which confirmed the increasing ‘italianisation’ well before Italian unification. So, as Riall writes,
[E]ven as cultural activity remained a local affair based on regional networks and associations, its languages, rituals, themes and subjects became more Italian. Italy was an especially strong presence in the visual and performing arts: in painting, music and plays.. Theatre in particular played a nationalising role. The popularity of opera led to a wave of theatre construction in major cities and small towns, and these theatres created a recognisable and uniform public architecture across the Italian peninsula.. Thus, both the theatres themselves and the performances in them provided and helped construct a sense of imagined community in Italy.

The revisionist historians, in support of their ideas about predominant local identities and the elitist nature and irrelevance of Risorgimento, argued that Italian language could not be the national unifying force because of its low penetration. Tullio de Mauro argued that only 2.5 per cent of the population, and only 160,000 people outside Tuscany and Rome, out of 20 million, were ‘Italophones’. However, de Mauro’s definition of ‘Italophone’ was based on ‘command of national language’, which could be achieved, for him, only through post-elementary education. However, this was a highly contestable claim, and based on an expectation of literacy which was uncommon in the nineteenth century, before the spread of public education. Allowing for different degrees of familiarity with the language, the historical Linguist Luca Serianni revised de Mauro’s figures, and estimated that about 10 per cent of the Italian population spoke the national language at home or at work. However, a much larger proportion of the population were able to use the national language whenever necessary, for example, with customers or while travelling, and even a larger section understood the language even if they did not speak it. Putting this together, about 22 per cent Italians understood the language, though, they might not have been able to read the ‘risorgimento canon’.

Riall also points to the use of new science of Statistics and its popularity and use of creating peninsula-wide information as an important element of ‘national imagination’. Also, this new ‘cultural’ approach presents an opportunity to reassess the role of Mazzini and somewhat reverses the image of Cavour and his friends getting the upper-hand over the Mazzinians. Riall writes
Mazzini also realised after arrival in England in 1837, the technologies of mass communication could be used to encourage and spread such feelings of empathy far beyond any natural boundaries of national community. By the middle of nineteenth century, the effects of this nationalising and internationalising print capitalism had become more widespread.
Mazzini’s various newspapers, particularly Apostolato Popolare, published from exile in London, and addressed to ‘Italians and Italian workers’, and his popularisation of Giuseppe Garibaldi as a selfless Italian hero, had enormous impact on Italian imagination, making Garibaldi famous even before he returned to Italy in 1848. Even when Mazzinian insurrections failed, as in Calabrian expeditions, Mazzini could turn them into publicity triumphs winning more and passionate followers of the cause of Italy. Besides, Mazzini’s popularity and influence in England helped spread the Risorgimento ideas all over Europe, which played no little role in influencing various diplomatic decisions in the following years that helped the Italian unification. And, while Cavour and his friends might seem to have won the ‘political conflict’ over the Mazzinians with the decline of the political influence of the latter in the 1850s, that Cavour’s hand was forced into Italian Unification by the expedition of Garibaldi can now be seen as a triumph of Mazzinian politics of insurrection and propaganda.

As outlined in the brief discussion of the historiography of Risorgimento and Italian Unification above, the idea of ‘imagined communities’ rescued ‘nation-ness’ as a legitimate object of historical analysis, and not just as a transient state or a convenient invention by the elite to attain objectives of their own. The idea of ‘Imagined Communities’ allowed the conversation to move beyond both the idealistic notions of a nation being through the imagination of a group of elites and their self-less action, as well as the notions of the nation as an ‘accidental’ creation. Such notions were bound to be challenged with the availability of new evidence, as it was by the revisionists, but their tale of social and regional divisions obscure the key question - why did Italian unification happen at all?

Admittedly, the new historiography of Risorgimento, illuminating as it is in opening up new discussions about public and private spheres, remains a work in progress, and whether it could be called a ‘mass movement’ is still being debated. The connections between ‘high and popular culture’, as well as ‘between secular and religious culture’ are still being debated, and ‘not enough is known about the relationship between cultural developments and social change, or between cultural forms of identification and political action.’  

An emergent approach from this historical analysis is to separate nationalism as a cultural movement from that of nationalism as a political programme, with the connection to political action being provided by political thought and considerations of realpolitik. The argument about separating Cultural and Political Nationalism is not new but rather than reverting back to the ‘cultural primordialism’ and reasserting the ancient origins of the nation, the idea of ‘Imagined Community’ allows cultural nationalism to become a tool of historical analysis in its own right, and supports a system of ideas that links Cultural Nationalism with political action, as the new Historiography of Risorgimento may demonstrate.

The other prominent criticism of ‘Imagined Communities’ idea is that it is elitist, and that its explanation of national awareness depends too much on a Mazzini or a Gandhi. But, as the discussion on Historiography of Risorgimento shows, its implications are quite the reverse: The nuanced understanding of cultural nationalism that it affords, by being distinct both from political nationalism which gives the elites an outsized role, and from cultural primordialism which has a deterministic quality about it, allows one to see the agency of ‘little people’, in a voluntaristic formation of ‘national space’ rather than in submission to a ‘common will’.

In conclusion, the nation as an imagined community exerts a deep influence on modern historiography and opens up new possibilities of historical discussion. It also brings the influence of newer media, radio and television, into the sphere of legitimate concern of historians. As ‘Print Capitalism’ gave way to these newer forms of mass communication, new forms of politics also emerged, history of which is being written now. The relationship, it seems, works both ways: The decline of newspapers have been linked to the diffusion of nationalism in the Western societies, and vigour of the print culture in some of the Asian societies have been linked to affirmation of new national sentiments. And, emergent now is the new politics of Internet, which, with a new narcissism of ‘avatars’, and of personalised news feeds (which can also be said of the proliferation of TV channels made possible by Cable and Satellite television) creates ‘echo-chambers’, a new kind of personalised social existence without the kind of ‘simultaneity’ that allowed the empathies beyond one’s immediate surrounding. The question, asked by Ernesto Laclau, ‘which imagined community’, is acquiring a new potency with the emergence of the new media, and generational and professional divides challenging the sense of belongings and identities of the previous generations. And, in these challenges, one could spot the extraordinary possibility of the idea - in itself as well as an analytical tool - in its ability to generate deep insights and conversations across contexts and historical phases.


Secondary Sources

Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities, Verso Books, London, 1996

Riall, Lucy, Risorgimento: The History of Italy from Napoleon to Nation State, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2009

Balakrishnan, Gopal (Ed), Mapping the Nation, Verso Books, London, 2012

Beales, Derek and Biagini, Eugenio F, The Risorgimento and The Unification of Italy, Pearson, Harlow, Essex, 2002

Cole, Laurence (Ed), Different Paths to the Nation: Regional and National Identities in Central Europe and Italy, 1830 - 70, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2007

Culler, Jonathan and Cheah, Pheng (Eds), Grounds of Comparison: Around The Work of Benedict Anderson, Routledge, New York, 2003

Hayes, Carlton J H, Nationalism: A Religion, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1960

Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence (Eds), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997

Hutchinson, John, The dynamics of cultural nationalism: The Gaelic revival and the creation of the Irish nation state, Allen and Unwin, London, 1987

Kedourie, Elie, Nationalism (4th Edition), Blackwell, Oxford, 1966

Kohn, Hans, The Idea of Nationalism: A study of Its Origins and Background, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1945

Manela, Erez, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009

Patriarca, Silvana and Riall, Lucy (Eds), The Risorgimento Revisited: Nationalism and Culture in Nineteenth Century Italy, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2012  

Riall, Lucy, The Italian Risorgimento: State, society and national unification, Routledge, London, 1994

Riall, Lucy, Garibaldi: Invention of A Hero, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007

Smith, Anthony D, The Nation in History: Historiographical Debates about Ethnicity and Nationalism, Brandeis University Press/ Historical Society of Israel, Published by University Press of New England, Hanover, 2000

Friday, April 14, 2017

History Essays: Why Was Hitler Appointed Chancellor?

The ‘Why’ Question?

Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one.

The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags across the country. Hitler himself came only second to Hindenburg in the Presidential elections in March/ April 1932, with 13 million votes cast in his favour. Yet, his appointment as Chancellor was deeply fraught. The NSDAP was known as an Anti-Semitic fringe party, committed to the destruction of the Weimar Republic. Hitler himself was not even a German citizen until the early months of 1932. Despite impressive electoral performances of 1932, the party’s influence seemed to be waning by the end of the year, and its votes fell by 2 million in the elections of November 1932. The party membership was demoralised in Hitler’s failure to attain power, and there were clear divisions among the ranks about political strategy, which led to the resignation of Gregor Strasser, the second most senior leader in NSDAP, in December 1932. The party was reportedly facing a financial crisis, as membership dues and attendance at its rallies were falling. In 1932, in Goebbels’ eyes, the NSDAP was ‘triumphing [itself] to death’.

This would change with Hitler’s appointment as the Chancellor. As a direct consequence, through a ‘legal revolution’ over the next few months, all institutions of the Weimar Democracy would be subsumed in a ‘Fuhrer State’. Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor would mark a turning point when the German History really turned.

Some historians argued that the demise of the Weimar Democracy was somewhat a foregone conclusion. The popular post-war narratives, such as William L Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich (first published in the United States in 1960, and in German in 1961) and AJP Taylor’s The Course of German History ( first published in 1945), posited the ‘German Character’ in explaining the weakness of democracy in Germany and its eventual capitulation to the Nazis. The arguments about a ‘democratic deficit’, which drew on the nineteenth century German Historiographic tradition of Sonderweg, see German History to be on a different path from the other Western European nations such as France or Britain.  These accounts refer back to different points of German History, and argue that Weimar Republic was destined to a short-lived experiment, an ‘interregnum’ between the wars. The events of 30th January, from this perspective, was to be expected, and Germany was never meant to remain a democratic country for long.

On the opposite side of this argument were the post-war German historians such as Friedrich Meinecke and Gerhard Ritter, writing in the immediate aftermath of the war, who treated the Nazis emerging from a ‘parasitic sub-growth’, gaining strength through a series of developments after the First World War. For these German historians, the ascendancy of the Nazis as a result of an European problem of modernisation, materialism and violence. The Nazi Seizure of Power, from this perspective, is another instance of rise of Fascism, already experienced in different countries in Eastern and Southern Europe, perhaps only of a more powerful and virulent kind.

Yet other historians have looked at Modern German History for an explanation of the rise of the Nazis and their seizure of power. Historians such as Fritz Fischer pointed to the expansive war aims of the German leaders during the Great War (1914-1918) and the resulting defeat and disappointment as one of the key reasons for the ‘German catastrophe’. Modern historians have looked also at the late German unification under Bismarck in 1871, which sought to preserve the primacy of the old landed aristocracy of Prussia and looked to resist modernisation, is seen as ‘the first real moment in German history which it is possible to relate directly to the coming of Third Reich in 1933’. More recent historical events, such as the totality of the First World War, through direct participation of younger population, the food crisis and the shock of the ‘unexpected loss’, are also seen factors leading to the radicalisation of the population and persistence of political violence, with the presence of different paramilitary organisations on the streets. Yet others have pointed to the structural weaknesses of the Weimar democracy: Despite being an advanced democracy, Weimar Republic was an accommodation between a land-based elite, the professional classes and the working class movement, which sought to allow full participation of the working classes while maintaining the existing social order. After the war, the armed forces were allowed to retain its ultra-conservative officer corps, despite the Republican Government having the opportunity to reform it at that juncture, and they continued to espouse anti-Republican views through the years that followed. The Judiciary and the Civil Services, often drawn from the aristocratic families, continued to work in a partisan and anti-Republican manner through the existence of the Republic. This fragile Republic was brought to the precipice by the ‘Great Depression’, rising unemployment, and the fears of ‘proletarianization’ among the small businessmen and the peasants in 1929, and this was an important factor behind the erosion of support for Liberal Parties in favour of the ‘extremist’ movements, such as the Nazis.   The events of 30th January 1933, from this perspective, though not inevitable, were increasingly likely, a development determined by the German history and the post-war German experience.

At the same time, however, it is also possible to read the historical account of the events leading to and on 30th January 1933 as a a set of decisions made by individuals. Nazis claimed this to be a ‘triumph of the will’, with the German Hero, Hitler, prevailing against all odds, and achieving the German leadership.

However, as Kershaw observes
Hitler’s own actions were of only secondary importance in bringing him to power. They consisted exclusively, apart from sustained agitation, of holding out for highest stakes - the Chancellorship in a presidential cabinet - and of refusing all compromise attempts to involve him otherwise in government. The policy worked in the end. But this was as a consequence of the actions of others more than of Hitler himself.

Henry Ashby Turner identifies Franz Von Papen, who was deposed as Chancellor in December 1932, Otto Meissner, the Presidential Chief of Staff, and Colonel Oskar Von Hindenburg, the President’s son, as the key individuals whose influences over President Von Hindenburg led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor. Rather than a logical step in the process of German historical development, this makes the events of 30th January look much like a palace intrigue, contingent on motives and dispositions of different individuals close to President Von Hindenburg. Such a reading of the events give the question of Hitler’s Chancellorship a different ‘why’ - ‘why then’ rather than ‘why Nazism’ or ‘why Hitler’. This approach also gives 30th January 1933 a history of its own, interrogating the agency and compulsions of the key actors and groups.

Taking these different views on board, this essay would attempt to answer the question of ‘Why’ as a set of interconnected questions: Why did the Nazis become the pre-eminent political party in Weimar Democracy, despite their professed anti-democratic goals? Why did they fail to achieve power in 1932, leading to an apparent crisis in the party by the end of the year? And, finally, why did Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933 when the Nazi Party seemed to be facing a crisis?

The Legal Path to Revolution: Nazi Electoral Success

In the Reichstag elections of 20th May 1928, the NSDAP secured 2.6% of the popular vote which translated into merely 12 deputies at the Reichstag. With a mere 8.1% vote even at its stronghold of Franconia (where it got 20.7% votes in May 1924, in the aftermath of the Weimar hyperinflation), this was a fringe party with declining appeal. And, yet, only two years later, in the Reichstag elections of 14th September 1930, the NSDAP secured 18.3% of the popular vote (increasing their popular vote from 0.8 million to an impressive 6.4 million), making it the second largest party in a very fragmented Reichstag, with 107 deputies.

Karl Dietrich Bracher points to four reasons for this extraordinary turnaround of the NSDAP after 1928.  

First, the radicalisation of DNVP, the pre-eminent Nationalist party, after Alfred Hugenberg, hardline nationalist and media baron, became the Chairman of the Party in October 1928. This allowed Hitler and NSDAP to ‘share in the social respectability, the political influence, and the financial resources of these circles’ and become a part of ‘a broad national opposition to Weimar Republic’.

The DNVP, or the German National People's Party, participated in the Burgerblock government of 1925, a coalition of conservative, nationalist and Catholic parties. This government presided over a period of relative stability and prosperity, the ‘golden twenties’ of the Weimar Republic. The politics of the Weimar Republic moved towards the centre during this period, with ‘Social Democrats, with their strong showing in December 1924, seemed to have eclipsed the Communists, and the Nationalists (until 1924 the most vociferous opponents of the republic) not only vanquished the volkisch coalition but entered the cabinet’. However, having entered the Government, DNVP failed to keep its various constituents happy, and was particularly resented by the Creditor interests. Its campaign message against the dangers of advancing socialism failed to impress its voters, and its votes was down to 14% in 1928, from over 20% in 1924 elections, with a loss of 30 deputies. This led to a transformation of the party with Alfred Hugenberg, the media baron, taking over the party leadership in October 1928. A monarchist and anti-Republican, Hugenberg’s leadership would radicalise the party and move it away from the political centre and close to ‘Volkisch’ parties, including the NSDAP. In an attempt to create a National Opposition against the Young Plan, which proposed a settlement of Germany’s reparation dues, the parties would work closely together in order to promote the so called ‘Freedom Law’ and a Referendum in December 1929. Though this movement would fail to achieve its objectives, NSDAP’s association with DNVP and its public participation in the Anti-Young Plan activities did give it credibility that it sorely lacked.  

Second, the economic crisis following the ‘Great Depression’ of 1929, which resulted in rapidly rising unemployment, and fears of ‘proletarianisation’ among the small businessmen and the peasants, helped the Nazis.

The Nazi vote declined greatly through the period of stability between 1925 and 1928, making it one of the fringe parties in Germany. However, the worldwide depression affected Germany greatly: Between June 1928 and May 1930, the German industrial production dropped by 31% and by January 1930, there were 3 million unemployed workers in Germany, a 200% increase in two years. As an example, in German town of Nordheim, a small town of 10,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, the depression era anxiety allowed the Nazis to make inroads,
But the depression engendered fear. Businessmen whose own enterprises were doing well worried about the general situation in Germany. Banks which had no difficulty in collecting on loans began to reduce all credit allotments. Only the workers were directly hurt, but the rest of the townspeople, haunted by tense faces of the unemployed, asked themselves, “Am I next?”, “When will it end?” Because there were no clear answers desperation grew. In this situation, the voice of the Nazi began to be heard.
Bracher argues that the depression-era job losses resulted even more widespread panic among middle classes and peasantry than the Weimar Hyperinflation of 1923. “Politically, this panic was expressed by attacks on Versailles and reparations; socially (particularly on the part of the petty-bourgeoisie), it took the form of fear of proletarianization; and ideologically, it surfaced as fear of Communism.”  The Nazi catch-all propaganda, at once Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Communist, Anti-Jewish and Anti-Republic, appeared attractive in this setting. The Nazis were also able, in the 1930 election, win over new voters, those who did not vote in previous elections because of apathy or indifference to established parties.

Third, the death of Gustav Stresemann, ex-Chancellor and Foreign Minister, in October 1929, which changed the dynamic of the Grand Coalition government and a rupture in 1930 that led to a mid-term Reichstag election.

The Weimar Republic enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity between 1924 and 1928. The monetary stabilisation was successfully completed, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations and the elections of 1928 took place as the Reichstag completed its full term. However, the Grand Coalition government that took office after the 1928 election did not last as long. Evans argues that the coalition was bound together by the common effort to secure the Young Plan, and once this was achieved in Autumn 1929, there was not much to keep it together. After Gustav Stresemann, the People’s Party leader and Foreign Minister, suddenly died in October 1929, the coalition lost his negotiating abilities and moderating influence. The rupture came in 1930, when faced with a rapid rise in the number of unemployed people, the People’s Party demanded a cut in the unemployment benefits but the Social Democrats, fearful of losing ground to the Communists, refused to give in. This led to People’s Party walking out of the coalition and the Grand Coalition government tendered its resignation on 27th March 1930, triggering an election at an opportune juncture for the Nazis.

Fourth, and finally, the shift of strategy of the Nazis, from the Italian style ‘March on Berlin’, to a strategy of ‘legal revolution’, through an ‘unrivalled combination of force and persuasion, terror and propaganda, pseudo-legal measures and deception and violence’ which made possible the transformation of the party from an agitational fringe group to a plausible political alternative within the Weimar system.

After the Nazi failure in the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ of 8th-9th November 1923 ( as well as that of the earlier armed insurrection such as the Kapp Putsch and the Bolshevik attempts in the immediate aftermath of the War ), Hitler took the view that any armed insurrection was futile without the Army and the Civil Service fully supporting it. While the debate was always an open one within the Nazi party - Gregor Strasser was still ready to commit to ‘capture of power through illegal means’ when resigning from the party role in December 1932 - the political strategy of NSDAP since its re-establishment in 1925 was to attain power through legal means. Its organisation was modelled after the propaganda apparatus of the Marxist parties, of a network of cells spreading across the entire country. The central idea was to “[feed] [information and directives] by a central headquarters not only on a monthly but on a weekly basis” and to be ready for mobilisation at any time. While the idea was to create this structure at the grassroots level, like the working class parties, the finances and membership strength of the party did not permit such grassroots activity immediately. There was a long debate within the party about concentrating on few key areas, industrial heartlands following the ‘urban strategy’ that the party followed at the time, rather than attempting to build the network all over Germany. At the time of 1928 elections, this structure was still being built and the communication lines between the headquarters and the local levels remained fraught with difficulty. After the 1928 elections, when the Party’s failure to break into working class communities became clear, there was a shift of strategy towards greater concentration on smaller towns and rural areas, as ‘with a smaller expenditure of energy, money and time, better results can be achieved there than the big cities’.  The resulting shift meant a greater concentration on rural communities and small towns, and creation of a range of associations and bodies of small landowners, peasants and other interest groups. The success of this strategy helped NSDAP to expand its membership base, from 100,000 to 150,000 by October 1929, which was further aided by depression era gains before the elections in 1930s.

It should be noted that while the Nazis took the ‘legal path’ and made gains in the successive elections after 1929, they were clear in its objective to destroy the Weimar Republic, if only by other means. In September 1930, defending three Army lieutenants charged for subversion, Hitler said,
The National Socialist movement will try to achieve its aim with constitutional means in this state. The constitution provides only the methods, not the aim. In this constitutional way we shall try to gain decisive majorities in the legislative bodies so that the moment we succeed we can give the state the form that corresponds to our ideas.   
While the Chairman of the Court concluded this as a statement of Nazi intentions to follow the Constitutional path, the stated strategy of the Nazis were to undermine the goal of the constitution - preservation of the Republic - once they gained power through the elections.

Triumphing To Death: The Stalemate of 1932

Heinrich Bruning took over as Chancellor on 30th March 1930 after the resignation of the Grand Coalition government. While Bruning's government hoped that the moderate right wing parties would have an overall majority, the shock election results on 1930 was a disappointment.  Bruning’s approach for support was rebuffed by both NSDAP with 107 deputies (out of 577) and by DNVP with 41 deputies, and he was left with no option but to depend on the ‘toleration’ of the SPD, who was still the biggest party in the Reichstag. Bruning continued as the Chancellor, ruling through Presidential assent rather than Parliamentary authority. Though the Social Democrat support ensured that Bruning government was safe from any no confidence motion in the Reichstag, President Von Hindenburg was irreconcilably opposed to any Social Democratic participation in the Government, so they were kept out.

This arrangement, which was to last till the spring of 1932, had many consequences. From the initial days of the Weimar Republic, Presidential decrees were widely used, and President Ebert used them in 136 separate occasions during his tenure. However, Bruning’s cabinet became a Presidential rather than a Parliamentary one, and it relied almost exclusively on Presidential decrees to conduct affairs which would usually be the prerogative of the Parliament. This would become the norm over the following years, with Chancellors serving at the discretion of the President and President Von Hindenburg appointing and sacking Chancellors at will.

While the Bruning government won some Foreign Policy concessions citing the ‘Fascist menace’ in 1931, including an one year moratorium on Germany’s reparation payments, his economic policies proved counterproductive. A a poorly planned attempt for a customs union with Austria were met with resistance from France, which precipitated an Austrian banking crisis, and resulted in run on some German banks and business bankruptcies. This neutralised Bruning’s successes, and the resulting economic crisis, and cuts in wages and salaries meant further loss of support for the Government. Bruning, with emergency degrees and deflationary policies, were being called the ‘Hunger Chancellor’ by the December of 1931 and was extremely unpopular. The government’s lack of popularity was also hurting the Social Democrats, who were seen to be propping it up.

As the economic situation worsened, the Nazis kept agitating. A broad right-wing opposition to Bruning’s Government, the Harzburg Front, was formed between the DNVP, the NSDAP and other groups, which helped the Nazis by propelling it to the leadership of the anti-austerity agitation. This would eventually allow them to win over voters from other Nationalist parties, particularly the DNVP.

This would also help the Nazis to take advantage of one key structural issues of Weimar politics: The fragmentation of the electorate. The Republic’s proportional representation system created a favourable setting for special interest and single issue parties, such as The Real Estate and Homeowners’ Party, The Reich Association of Revalorization, the Tenants Party, the Reich Party of the Middle Class. These parties were a permanent feature in the local elections, and only the presence of the powerful SPD and the need to form coalition against it kept Weimar politics less fragmented than it would otherwise be. In 1928 elections, the single issue parties polled 14% of votes against the combined 13.5% of the Liberal Parties together. The rise of special interest parties affected the Liberals as well as the DNVP, and forced all the parties to appeal of solidarity against communists all the time. The NSDAP, through their numerous associations for special interest groups, with their catch-all agitational stance and their appeal to solidarity against the Socialists and Communists but also the establishment parties of the Republic, would be able to consolidate, by 1932, the special interest votes.

The other important development that helped the NSDAP during this period was the growth of its paramilitary, the SA. While Chancellor Bruning and his Minister of Defence and Interior, Wilhelm Groener, was concerned about the rapid growth of the SA, the Reichswehr establishment, and in particular, General Kurt Von Schleicher, a key advisor to President Von Hindenburg, encouraged the growth of the SA (and other right-wing paramilitary, Stahlhelm) as a part of its military modernisation strategy. These individuals saw the paramilitary as a training ground for the future German army, which was, at the time, limited by the Treaty of Versailles to only 100,000 men. This growth of Paramilitary strength also meant a rapid escalation of political violence, with the right wing militia inflicting more damage. With the judiciary inclined to pass lighter sentences for right wing violence than for left wing violence, the Nazis were winning the street battles.

While the Right wing opposition in general, and the Nazis in particular, was energised by the economic crisis of 1930-31, the Social Democrats gradually lost the momentum. Allen described how after matching the Nazi activities in January/February 1931, over the Spring and Summer, Social Democrats became relatively quiet. With a large number of unemployed on the streets, who were mostly going over to the Communists, the routes of staging general strikes, as they did during the Kapp Putsch, were closed. While they had no role in Bruning Government and could not influence its policies, they were seen as a party in Austerity measures because of their support in the Reichstag. The Middle Classes were now alienated from the Social Democrats not because they were radical, but they were not radical enough, not capable of making any fundamental economic change.

The Communists, the third largest party in the Reichstag, gained ground among the unemployed, but its strategies of violence also drove away many sympathisers, and led to a ‘self-ghettoization’ of the party. Just as Nazis were becoming an ‘omnibus’ movement, the KPD, controlled as it was by the Third International, failed to become “more than just strong enough to serve as bogy and scapegoat for the rightists and National Socialists in their attack on democracy.”

On 7th January 1932, Joseph Goebbels wrote on his diary, “The endgame of power has began.” The immediate contest in his view would have been the Presidential Election, due later that year. Hitler’s initial position, which he communicated to Bruning, was to support Von Hindenburg’s re-election on the condition that Reichstag would be dissolved and fresh elections would be called, in which the Nazis expected to do very well. When Brunning did not agree, Hitler started considering running for Presidency, but waited till the SPD, following the political alignment of the time, came out in Hindenburg’s support. While this was damaging for Social Democrats as they were seen to be propping up an unpopular government and a President who was not popular with their voters, they were left with little choice as otherwise Hitler would have emerged the winner. Despite this, however, Hitler expected to win, and when after the first round of elections, Hindenburg received 18 million votes against Hitler’s 11 million, the Nazi Party flag was flown half-mast. While Hitler publicly rejoiced NSDAP doubling its vote share from 1930, he admitted, at a party event in Nuremberg on 15th March 1932, that he miscalculated and did not expect SDP members to vote for Hindenburg. In the run-off on 10th of April, Hitler would gain another 2 million votes, a total of 36.8 per cent, when Theodor Duesterberg, the Stahlhelm and the candidate supported by Hugenberg’s DNVP withdrew. However, Von Hindenburg got elected with 53% of the votes, and for all the gains made by the Nazis, they had failed to gain power.

There were four state elections, in Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Anhalt, and a Mayoral election in Hamburg, on 24th April, immediately following the second round of Presidential Election. While Nazis improved their vote share spectacularly in each one of these elections, with the exception of Anhalt, they were unable to form the administration in any of these places.

The NSDAP received another opportunity to power when Bruning resigned, in May 1932, because of the differences with President Von Hindenburg on several issues including the control of the right-wing paramilitaries such as the SA and the question of farm bankruptcies in Prussia. This prompted a Reichstag election, just as Hitler demanded earlier in the year. Nazis, in keeping with their electoral successes, doubled their vote share to 37.3% and emerged as the largest single party with got 230 deputies in the Reichstag.

This success, the only other party to improve their position in the Reichstag was the KPD, meant that no Parliamentary cabinet was possible without NSDAP and KPD both participating in it, which was an impossibility. Hitler was invited to participate in a Coalition government led by Franz Von Papen, a Centre Party politician with aristocratic lineage and military background, who had become Hindenburg’s favourite. Hitler refused to participate if he was not made the Chancellor, and this demand was rebuffed by the President. On 13th August, the negotiations broke down. The Nazis had again failed to capture power despite an impressive electoral performance.

The failure to capture power was having serious impact on the morale of the Nazi party. When the SA unleashed a wave of violence in August 1932 following Hitler’s failure to get Chancellorship, Von Papen’s government issued a number of emergency decrees and the Army informed Goring that they would shoot in case of an attempted Putsch. When Von Papen was forced to resign after a no confidence motion passed against his government at the Reichstag - this time, Social Democrats were neither willing nor able to save the government - another election was called. In the November 1932 elections, the NSDAP vote share dropped to 33.1% and their number of deputies to 196. They lost 2 million votes and 34 deputies from the July elections. Internal Nazi analysis in the wake of November elections already projected that Nazi electoral performance had peaked. The Munich Police was reporting ‘rapid decline of the SA’ and a communique from the Foreign Ministry on 19th January 1933 was pointing to a financial crisis. The Nazis were, as Goebbels observed, ‘triumphing into death’ by the end of 1932.

Triumph Of Intrigue: Hitler As Chancellor

While President Von Hindenburg apparently preferred Von Papen as the Chancellor, he balked at reappointing him after the November elections failed to break the parliamentary deadlock. General Kurt von Schleicher, Hindenburg’s advisor who sponsored Von Papen’s candidature to replace Bruning as Chancellor and served as the Defence Minister in the cabinet, took over the role himself.

General Schleicher was aware of the limited mandate of his Presidential cabinet and wanted to reach out to Nazis to lend it a mass acceptance. However, he was acutely aware of Hitler’s position - Chancellorship or nothing - as well as growing dissatisfaction in the Nazi ranks with the failure to gain power. Schleicher took the approach of bypassing Hitler and offering Gregor Strasser, the leader of the party organisation and second to only Hitler within the Nazi party, the Vice-Chancellor role in the cabinet. While Schleicher might have hoped for a split in the Nazi party, and calculated that they desperately needed to be in power at this point, he miscalculated the ability of Strasser to defy Hitler and split the party. This overture came to nothing, as the discussions were reported to Hitler and Strasser resigned from his party posts, on 8th December 1932.

Strasser’s resignation, given his seniority and public profile, was a shock to the Nazi rank and file, coming at a time when the morale was already low. This was, however, a bigger setback for Schleicher’s government. Otto Meissner, the State Secretary to President, told the Nuremberg Tribunal
Papen was dismissed because he wanted to fight the National Socialists and did not find in the Reichswehr the necessary support for such a policy, and..Schleicher came to power because he believed he could form a government which would have the support of the National Socialists. When it became clear that...Schleicher on his part was unable to split the National Socialist Party.. The policy was shipwrecked.

As a result Schleicher wanted the President to dissolve the Reichstag and postpone elections for a period of time, effectively suspending the constitution and imposing a Military dictatorship. This was the riskiest of all available options, Turner notes, and one Hindenburg was least likely to agree to. There was a risk that the SA would have marched if an Emergency was declared: As Gregor Strasser wrote in his resignation letter: “The National Socialist stormtroopers are still intact; they are prepared for the final march..For who could withstand this well-organised army which has a firm ideological commitment, which has already passed the half-million mark, and the whole of which are under the leadership of Frontline officers and soldiers?” With Reichswehr limited to 100,000 men by Versailles Treaty, it was Schleicher’s own policy to encourage strong paramilitary organisations such as the SA, and this had made his attempts to impose a Military Dictatorship unworkable.

Schleicher was also unaware of the contacts between Papen and Hitler, facilitated by Kurt Von Schroeder, a banker. After various negotiations, Hitler agreed to participate in a right-wing Coalition Cabinet with himself as the Chancellor, Papen as Vice Chancellor, and with representation from DNVP (Hugenberg) and Stahlhelm (Seldte and Dusterberg). Hindenburg’s reluctance to appoint Hitler was overcome with the influence of President’s son, Oskar Von Hindenburg, and the State Secretary, Otto Meissner. Hindenburg’s chosen candidates were given the Defence and Foreign Office ministries, the two positions he wanted to keep out of reach of the Nazis. Papen also agreed to the other key demands Hitler made, that this was to be a Presidential cabinet, Reichstag would be dissolved and new elections would be called, acutely aware that this would be opportunity for NSDAP to win popular mandate after Hitler had succeeded in winning power.

Once he was presented with this plan, and concerned about rumours that Schleicher and the army under General Kurt Von Hammerstein was planning a coup, President Hindenburg dismissed Schleicher and appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30th, 1933.
The Question of Contingency

In conclusion, one may see the events of 30th January 1933 as one of those conjunctures when individual actions and historical trends interplayed, and allowed men to make history, but not, to paraphrase Marx, as they wanted. But determining responsibility is a perilous enterprise. While research in Contingency is useful, it is fallacious to decide that while Hitler’s Chancellorship was made possible at a moment of weakness of the Nazi movement, and perhaps because of its weakness, by a group of men acting on diverse motives, everything that followed was determined by this one turn of history. The usefulness of the Contingency view is to move beyond deterministic tendencies of German historiography, but not to establish a new one.

In conclusion, therefore, it is perhaps more rewarding to study the ideas of Post-War West German basic law, which attempted to correct the ‘mistakes’ of the Weimar, by ‘limiting the role of plebiscites, restricting the power of president, eliminating the ability of the parliament to paralyse the government, and asserting the primacy of basic rights over both legislative and executive powers.’

Primary Sources
Noakes, J and Pridham, G (Eds), Nazism 1919 - 1945 : A Documentary Reader; Exeter University Publications, 1987

Secondary Sources
Allen, William Sheridan, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of A Single German Town 1930 - 1935, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1965
Bracher, Karl Dietrich, The German Dictatorship, Penguin Books, London, 1988
Broszat, Martin, Hitler and The Collapse of Weimar Germany, Berg, Lemington Spa, 1989
Caldwell, Peter C, Popular Sovereignty and the Crisis of German Constitutional Law: Theory and Practice of Weimar Constitutionalism, Duke University Press, Durham, 1997
Childers, Thomas, The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism in Germany, 1919 - 1933, The University of South Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1983
Evans, Richard J, The Coming of the Third Reich, Penguin Books, London, 2004
Kershaw, Ian, Hitler 1889 - 1936: Hubris, Penguin Books, London, 2001
Kershaw, Ian, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, 4th Edition, Bloomsbury, London, 2016
Noakes, Jeremy, The Nazi Party in Lower Saxony 1921 - 1933, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1971
Peukert, Detlev J K, The Weimar Republic, Penguin Books, London, 1991
Schuman, Dirk, Political Violence in the Weimar Republic 1918 - 1933, Berghahn Books, New York, 2012
Turner, Jr, H A, Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power: January 1933, Bloomsbury, London, 1996
Ulrich, Volker, Hitler: Volume 1: Ascent, The Bodley Head, London, 2016
Wilson, L (Trans.), The Road to Dictatorship: Germany 1918 to 1933, Oswald Woolf, London, 1970

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