Sanders Gets History Right on Hitler's Rise to Power

By:  Dylan Matthews

So how did Hitler become Chancellor and thus leader of Germany? Well, he won elections. It is absolutely true that the Nazi party used violence and intimidation to secure votes in both 1932 elections. That's what they had the SA's brownshirts around for. And they weren't the only party using violence either; the Communist Party of Germany was engaged in street-level battles as a form of electioneering as well. But the question here isn't "were the Nazi anti-democratic." Hopefully we're all agreed on that one already. Bernie Sanders did not say, "Hitler came to power in a free and fair election characterized by no violence on any side and really he deserved to become chancellor tbh." He said that Hitler was elected. And he was.

Moreover, he wouldn't have come to power absent the Nazis winning a plurality of seats in 1932. Hindenburg was loathe to hand over the Chancellorship to Hitler; it was his refusal to accept a Nazi-led government that forced a snap election in November right after one in July. And even then, Hindenburg held out for months. Only when it became clear that a right-wing government led by someone other than Hitler was completely untenable, given the makeup of parliament, did Hindenburg let Hitler accede to the Chancellorship in January 1933.

Moreover, this bizarre historical nitpicking totally loses sight of Sanders' ultimate, utterly banal point: that who wins elections matters, and that this is evidenced by the fact that the Nazis rose to power in no small part by winning seats in the Reichstag. We can argue all day about the relative power of the Reichspräsident versus the Reichskanzler but no one in their right mind would argue that Hitler could've risen to power if the Nazis hadn't won the 1932 parliamentary elections.

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