History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. -Karl Marx
One hundred years ago, this year, 2,000 Nazis, then a relatively small and rather fringe political party in Weimar, German, marched on the government of Bavaria, one of the larger German states in an attempt to overthrow the government.
The nominal head of this ‘movement’ was the then little known, Adolf Hitler. Hitler had been a homeless vagrant, living in a men’s shelter; a failed painter who discovered, almost by accident, that he had an incredible gift for public speaking and an ability to capture an audience with his words. He didn't look like one of his vaunted Aryan Gods, he was no blonde beast, far from it, but in an era before television, before visuals, when newly invented radio and sound only dominated, he was made for the new medium.
Hitler’s idea was to take control of the local government in Bavaria, and from there, move on to seize control of the rest of Germany.
Postwar (World War I) Germany was a nation deeply divided. The end of the Kaiser’s regime and the Treaty of Versailles had created the Weimar Republic. In the place of a nation that had previously been ruled by a strict Prussian military establishment, (it was often referred to as an army in control of a nation), the Weimar instead was a place were long repressed creativity and liberal ideas were unleashed. While the arts flourished, so did a whole new world of rather shocking intellectual and sexual liberation and experimentation. (Think ‘Woke’ if you like).
The inevitable backlash came in the form of a raft of right wing political parties and private armies (SA), dedicated to ‘making Germany great again.” They were a rabble, but a rabble with a deep desire to crush the newly created liberal society around them.
On November 8, 1923, Adolf Hitler and a group of approximately 2,000 of his most loyal followers marched on the Feldhernhalle in central Munich. Hitler was accompanied by his most loyal aids, men like Goering, Goebbels and Hess.
Their intent was to seize control, first of Munich, and from there, the rest of Germany.
Hitler mounted a podium and addressed the crowd:
You can see that what motivates us is neither self-conceit nor self-interest, but only a burning desire to join the battle in this grave eleventh hour for our German Fatherland … One last thing I can tell you. Either the German revolution begins tonight or we will all be dead by dawn.
The crowd roared its approval. Dr. Karl Alexander von Muller, a professor of history and political science at the University of Munich recorded this reaction:
I cannot remember in my entire life such a change in the attitude of a crowd in a few minutes, almost a few seconds … Hitler had turned them inside out, as one turns a glove inside out, with a few sentences. It had almost something of hocus-pocus, or magic about it.
The attempted coup failed. The Munich police put down the insurrection and arrested Hitler and Hess. Goering and Goebbels fled to Austria. Hitler was tried in an open courtroom. The trial went on for 24 days. Hitler used the trial as a public platform to further sway the public, and of course, the newspapers covered the trial in detail.
In the end, Hitler was sentenced to prison, where he served nine months, with Rudolf Hess as his roommate. During that time, he wrote his infamous Mein Kampf, which to date has sold over 12 millions copies.
The coup, which is called The Beer Hall Putsch, was of course, a failure. But it was hardly the end. In fact, it was a kind of dress rehearsal for what was to come. The media coverage, at the time, particularly of the trial, elevated Hitler in the public mind; it gave him a national presence he would never have had before, and in 1933, a decade later, he took control of Germany, this time by being elected.
One hundred years later, does history repeat itself?
Particularly as farce?
We’ll have to see, but there is no questioning the role that the media in 1923 played in greatly enhancing Hitler’s name and reputation.
The only difference, perhaps, is that instead of writing a book from prison, he might have produced it as a kind of online Reality TV show. Far more popular than books these days.