Prussian Landtag referendum

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Stahlhelm parade in Lustgarten (a park located in Berlin) during March 1931, a month prior to the referendum's introduction.

The Prussian Landtag referendum was a 1931 ballot initiative supported by elements of both extreme left-wing and right-wing elements in Weimar Germany to overthrow the democratically elected Landtag government, controlled at the time by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). It was initiated by the ultraconservative, nationalistic German National People's Party (DNVP) in April that year to unseat the Landtag parliament, controlled by the Social Democrats, German Democratic Party (DDP), and Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum).[1] The DNVP and its Stahlhelm paramilitary units denounced the "Marxist" government from the fringe right,[2] while the extreme left, embodied by the Nazi Party (NSDAP) and Communist Party (KPD), viewed the reformist Social Democratic government as insufficiently revolutionary.

At first, the referendum was spearheaded without support from the KPD, and a syncretic front involving both the far-left Nazi Party and right-wing nationalist parties barely managed to provide enough signatures for a petition to secure a referendum vote.[3] Communist support for the referendum was prompted by a notice from Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov. The KPD's central committee at first opposed collaboration with Nazis, though changed its decision upon persuasion by the Comintern via the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI).[4] Subsequently, Communist parties worldwide extolled:

...the decision of the KPD central committee to take part in the referendum against the social-fascist Government of Prussia.

—Communist central committee conference, July 24–25, 1931

The Communist leaders referred to Nazis as "working people's comrades"; under Ernst Thälmann, the party infamously declared: "After Hitler, Our Turn!"[5] Although a top-down approach attempted to persuade a functioning revolutionary red–brown alliance to successfully overthrow the SPD-led Landtag government, much of the KPD rank-and-file rejected the tactic.[2] The referendum ultimately failed despite the combined Nazi–Communist alliance from the far-left;[6] only 9.8 million votes were cast in support of dissolving the Landtag out of the 13.2 million required in the referendum held on August 9.[3] Although only 37% indicated their direct support for the initiative, the remaining 63% did not necessarily hold satisfactory views of the political status quo, with their opposition, overt or covert, rather representing a disapproval of political radicals by comparison.[7]

Following the referendum results, Leon Trotsky, while in exile at Turkey, wrote a column titled "Against National Communism!" in which he denounced the decision made by the German Communist leadership to follow Soviet/Comintern orders and form a syncretic alliance with Nazis.[8] Although the events of the Prussian Landtag referendum failed to initiate a red–brown front within much of the rank-and-file in 1931, such a radical, syncretic alliance did materialize the following year during the Berlin transport strike, when Nazis and Communist workers created a massive strike that led to Adolf Hitler's eventual ascension to power the year after in 1933.[5]

See also


  1. Childers, Thomas (1983). The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1933. Google Books. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Feuchtwanger, E. J. (1993). From Weimar to Hitler: Germany, 1918-33, p. 231. Google Books. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kolb, Eberhard (1984). The Weimar Republic, p. 120. Google Books. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  4. Communist International, pp. 153–54. Google Books. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Moncure, Billy (September 28, 2018). How Communists in Germany Allied with Nazis to Destroy Democracy. War History Online. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  6. From Weimar to Hitler, p. 84.
  7. Orlow, Dietrich (November 15, 1991). Weimar Prussia, 1925–1933: The Illusion of Strength, p. 156. Google Books. Retrieved January 22, 2023.
  8. Trotsky, Leon (August 25, 1931). Against National Communism! (Lessons of the “Red Referendum”). Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved January 22, 2023.