As UK ‘Yellow Vest’ groups continue to harass politicians, other activists and journalists, it's worth a reminder of how groups of desperate, angry young men can form the bedrock of tyranny when focused and encouraged to intimidate an enemy. /1
It's important to note that Britain 2019 is quite a ways from Germany, 1918. Many of the factors present then, simply aren't now. There will never be another ‘Nazi’ rise to power. However, history does present us with disturbing parallels. /2
As Imperial Germany signed the armistice, millions of young men, both veterans & those too young to fight, found themselves unemployed, defeated & with an uncertain future. Many young men sought a sense of security in right-wing bands of fighting men, known as 'Freikorps’. /3
If there was one trait that united many of the Freikorps, it was 'hate'. The Freikorps hated the communists, hated the elites they believed had 'stabbed' the nation in the back, hated the transition to democracy. Many were openly anti-semitic. /4
‘Freikorps’ offered a sense of belonging, meaning and security to veterans and other young men. Many Germans considered them important allies, as revolution swept the country and the German Empire transitioned to the Weimar Republic. /5
Sometimes the new Weimar Republic found it expedient to ally with Freikorps. The Social Democrat tasked with overseeing the armed forces, Gustav Noske, certainly found them useful in eliminating insurrectionists such as Rosa Luxemburg & Karl Liebknecht in by January 15, 1919. /6
Freikorps were also suspected in the murders of a number of other individuals suspected of being communists. Several were murdered by a Freikorps band near Munich on the 5th of May, 1919. /7
Over months, however, the government gained the upper hand in terms of dealing with revolutionaries and many of the Freikorps drifted away, back into the workforce. The situation was still fractious and fraught, but the immediate threat was lessening. /8
Meanwhile, the German Worker's Party - soon to become the Nationalist Socialist Worker's Party - was attracting some of these young men around Munich. Seasoned fighters, they were quick to respond with fists when left-wing activists turned up. /9
Seeing how eager young men were, and how able they could handle themselves in a fight, Adolf Hitler held meetings to establish a group of bodyguards in late 1919, that would be called the ‘Sturmabteilungen’ or Stormtroopers/SA. They were a constant presence at party events. /10
While the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 failed, one conclusion that Hitler was left with was that the SA had a role to play beyond keeping the Left away from meetings. As the Nazi party was ‘reborn’ after Hitler's imprisonment, groups spread across the country, along with members. /11
Throughout the 1920s, as the organisation grew, despite leadership changes, the role of the SA was simple - intimidation & violence. They would interrupt left-wing meetings, stage rowdy demonstrations and turn up to harass journalists and politicians who condemned them. /12
1929 saw the energising of the SA as a local leader in Berlin - Horst Wessel - was murdered by communists in Berlin, one of their fiercest battlegrounds. His death was turned into a propaganda victory that swelled numbers even further. /13
As I said, Berlin was a particularly fierce theatre of operations for the SA. From interrupting cinema screenings of 'unGerman’ films, attacking communists and blockading Jewish business, one couldn't ignore the SA in Berlin, in the years leading to 1932. /14
In the 1932 election, and both elections in 1933 leading to Hitler's rise to power, the SA were everywhere - outside election booths, protecting campaign materials, and tearing down those of opponents, chasing away other activists and bringing in people to vote. /15
It can't be denied that the SA played a significant role in bringing the Nazis to poeer. They had a presence and force of numbers that simply overwhelmed their opponents. Fear played a not insignificant role in victory. /16
Even after they lost their leader, the SA played a significant role in the construction of the Nazi terror state. It was they who attacked and blockaded universities to remove Jewish staff, they who stood at book burnings, they who rounded up dissidents to bring to Dachau. /18
The SA would not be fully eradicated until the fall of the Nazi regime. It is surprising how many of those who would later participate in some of the greatest horrors of the war got their start in the SA. /20
London, 2019 is not Munich, 1919, as I've said. There are many factors that divide our two worlds. However, we can't deny that it was the anger of disaffected young mean, focused by the Far Right, that smoothed the path for the Nazis. We see a lot of anger around us today. /21
As we find ourselves in the most times in Britain for 40 years, we cannot ignore the anger of young men. More importantly, we cannot those who focus their hate for political ends. They we must confront at every opportunity. The alternative does not bear thinking about. /FIN
You can follow @MikeStuchbery_.
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