Joseph Goebbels’s article on the German Revolution, the “most bloodless in world history” – i.e. the 1933 National Socialist seizure of power
An accusation commonly leveled against National Socialism (particularly by those on the Left, both during the inter-War era and today) is that it was a “reactionary” movement and ideology. Some of the critiques made in this regard – i.e that it sought a restoration of the Hohenzollerns – are rather silly. Others – such as it being in favor of the financial status quo, rather than being truly anti-capitalist – require a more nuanced examination and produce less clear-cut answers. Whatever the reality, the National Socialists in Germany certainly regarded themselves as a revolutionary movement and took this claim seriously. Hitler in 1923 had created dissension early on within the inter-state National Socialist movement through his insistence on armed revolution as the only legitimate means of achieving power. Even after he dropped this position following the failure of his subsequent Beer Hall Putsch, a revolutionary idealism remained within the NSDAP and increasingly came to dominate the older National Socialist parties across the border. Hitler’s newfound commitment to legality after 1923 was tactical, not ideological, borne partly from necessity and partly from a desire to build up popular support. Violence as an option was still maintained quietly in reserve, as he made clear in Mein Kampf: “…we will not shun illegal means if the oppressor also applies them.” Either way, legal or illegal, the result of the Party’s tactics was still also intended to be the same: the complete, revolutionary transformation of German society. In Hitler’s famous September 1930 speech at the ‘Ulm Reichswehr Trial’, he claimed that the NSDAP’s aim was the “spiritual revolutionizing of the German Volk” in order that the German people might “construct a completely new state” upon the Party’s attaining power. Very similar sentiments are expressed by Goebbels in a short June 1933 essay from the Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, translated below. He paints Hitler’s ascension to the Chancellorship and the formation of the ‘National Government’ as part of a revolutionary process – the culmination of years of struggle producing “the most bloodless [revolution] in world history” (a popular Nazi claim) and, consequently, a new state driven by a revolutionary Idea which will “conquer all areas of public life in order to integrate them with and subordinate them to its spirit.” Goebbels’s article was published in the same edition of the NS-Monatshefte as this piece on the German Revolution by Röhm. The two complement each other, although Röhm’s is in some ways even more explicitly radical.
The German Revolution
Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister
for Public Enlightement and Propaganda
First published in Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, vol. 4, no. 39, June 1933
The conditions of that world-historical January night,1 whose course of events seized the entirety of a suffering, tormented Volk down to their utmost depths and filled them with new faith and new hope, did not come about by coincidence. Within and behind them lies the great, dynamic principle of a political movement whose countenance bears revolutionary features. A movement which – like all truly creative forces in history – is gradually outgrowing the confinement of the smallest of anonymous beginnings, is rising to the daunting tasks which it seeks to fulfill, and, refined through hard years of persecution and the terror of its opponents, is organically, inexorably, and irrevocably interposing its influence in the great matters of public life. At the end of its path, the breadth and impact of which is determined by the revolutionary drive of its adherents, lies that time when it now seizes the heavy responsibility of state authorities, the time of new powers and new men who provide the structure of the political system with that form which corresponds to its own internal legitimacy.
Revolutions are spiritual acts. They take place initially within people themselves, and then within the manifestations of art, politics, and economy. The upheaval which we can witness today first occurred within the spirit of this movement. Out of its new stylistic sensibility, its creative power, grew the legitimacy of the German Revolution. With its victory it matured to the state principle.
Revolutions are waged by worldviews [Weltanschauungen], but worldviews are borne and driven forwards by men. Thus it is no coincidence that the reshaping of our German life everywhere and within everything is intrinsically National Socialist in nature. This movement has for 14 years been tenacious and dogged against all odds, bearing the huge burden of an unparalleled two-front war upon itself, unswervingly declaring war on the status-snobbery of the right and the class-spirit of the left. It was this movement’s propaganda which slowly began to loosen up the ossified forms and structures of German politics, which liberated people from the men of the stale, long-outmoded circles and poured them into the mighty crucible of a new political Idea. Ostracized and unpopular, it pushed aside everything that is minor and everything that divides; it put clearly and matter-of-factly at the center of things that which alone is able to unite a nation; it formed the spiritual foundations of a new state creed – and thus established the grounds on which an entire Volk came together, who had until then seemed eternally split and torn asunder.
The National Socialist movement, as the agent behind that historical act of 30th January, is now in the process of making its impact; because this revolution is its revolution. It evinces everywhere and within everything the great, clear features of the Idea. It does not stop anywhere or for anyone. It does not content itself with new flags and new emblems. Step by step it conquers all areas of public life in order to integrate them with and subordinate them to its spirit.
The meaning and essence of a revolutionary upheaval are never decided by the means which are employed during its course, but exclusively by the objective which is achieved. If one today rightly calls this revolution the most bloodless in world history, this just demonstrates how much things bear the stamp of our will. Revolutions are educational elements in history. They are instructive for the most profound and most fundamental reasons. Only the mob makes revolutions out of passion and chaos. The National Socialist, by comparison, only sees revolution as one stage in the construction of a new state. That is why he, as a rebel, maintains a cohesive stance. That attitude of discipline and responsibility, that commitment to the deeper forces of the future, the conscious dignity of an old culture – just so, exactly as we demonstrated to the world.
It is not people who make revolutions, but revolutionary conditions which drive people to revolt. It remains a great sign of our times that our revolution was not in actual fact the affair of an oppressed class. It has become the cause and subject matter of an entire great Volk. It is altogether a German Revolution. With and within it 65 million are rising up: women and men, youngsters and elders, Bürgers, peasants, workers, students and soldiers. 65 million, to whom a sophisticated lunacy denies the right to life and freedom. In misery and torment, despair and bitterness, they join their hands together and march under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and his movement towards becoming a new Volk and a new state; borne along by an Idea that surmounted all the symptoms of a moribund liberal epoch, an Idea which formed the ethos of the great “We” – the socialist, blood-related Volksgemeinschaft – and was driven by that passion which has been and still is the longing of all great Germans since the beginning: The Reich!
1. Goebbels is referring to January 30, 1933, the day when President Hindenberg appointed Hitler Chancellor of the German Reich. Hitler and his cabinet were sworn in about midday; by the early evening a massive parade of torch-bearing Stormtroopers had been organized to march through the center of Berlin, a spectacle which lasted much of the night. This huge procession marked the symbolic beginning of the ‘national uprising’, which is why Goebbels refers to it as a historic night and associates it with the ‘German Revolution’.
Translated from Joseph Goebbels’s Die deutsche Revolution, (June 1933), Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, vol. 4, no. 39