Communists and Nationalists

Early History of the KPD

The Communist Party of Germany was founded by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. These two leaders were short-lived, as they became involved in the Spartacist Revolution following the end of the First World War. The Social Democratic Party won out, and the two were arrested and murdered. Following this event, the Communist party had martyrs and a reason to continue protesting, but had also raised the specter of social revolution over the Weimar Republic: especially the middle class, who stood to lose the most from such an event. In the years following, many middle-class people moved farther to the political right, and the Communist party’s chief supporters were always working-class.

Formation of the Nazi Party

The NSDAP was founded in 1919, under the name of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP). Its roots were in the pan-German, nationalistic milieu of the time: other groups, like the Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutz Bund, existed to protect the interests of the ethnic Germans in the newly-formed outer territories, with the added goal of suppressing other minority groups.  Its core members were army officers who believed the common “stab-in-the-back” myth, which was that the war was lost by “defeatists” (Jews being foremost among them) who didn’t support the War on the home front. Nazi Party propaganda focused on soldiers’ sacrifices, as well as the idea of a unified “German” race, while making scapegoats of the Jews, who it blamed for both bolshevism and big capitalism. Its chief supporters were former officers and the middle class.

Clash of the Parties and the Police

During the latter 1920s, the two parties began to clash with regularity. The Nazis accused the communists of supporting the Jews, not the workers, while the Communists asserted that Nazis were not really national-socialist. While their members fought, however, the Communist leader, Ernst Thälmann, largely ignored the NSDAP during 1928-1929. Under orders from the Comintern, he focused on undermining the credibility of the SPD, rather than opposing the Nazis. He went so far as to call the SPD “Social Fascists” and to incite revolution. On May 1st, 1929, a Worker’s Day Rally turned into a battle between the Communists, a contingent of Nazis, and the police, during which thirty people were shot. This disaster turned the middle class further away from the communists, but also further divided the working class. An interesting critique of the Communist party during this time suggests that it created an environment in which Nazism could thrive, though the government’s overreaction also played a part. By demonizing the SPD, Thälmann made chances of a coalition with all of the left unlikely; however, the Weimar Schutzpolizei’s shooting of several communists on Blutmai made the idea all but impossible.