Richard Hamilton on Hitler’s Electoral Support

June 17, 2012

A quick summary of an article I recently read, to save this stuff from the memory-hole.

Hamilton, Richard F., “Hitler’s Electoral Support: Recent Findings and Theoretical Implications”, The Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 1-34

This is a summary of the main findings of Hamilton’s 1982 book, “Who Voted for Hitler?” It annoyingly doesn’t contain much in the way of concrete statistics (presumably because the details of the data are treated in length in the book – I should try to get ahold of it I guess.)

Hamilton frames his piece as a critique of an overemphasis on class analysis, w/r/t support for the National Socialists in Germany. The orthodox narrative, Hamilton complains, is that the petite bourgeoisie voted for Hitler.

The argument of an impoverished, proletarianized petite bourgeoisie is, without doubt, the leading “model’ for the explanation of the rise of the NSDAP. It has, since 1929, appeared in endless repetition. Among those who have proclaimed this “truth” are Theodor Geiger, Harold Lasswell, Alan Bullock, Sigmund Neumann, C. Wright Mills, Seymour Martin Lipset, William Kornhauser, Joachim Fest, and Karl Dietrich Bracher. It would be easy to name dozens of others. (p. 1)

But, Hamiltonargues, class position was not the principal determinant of fascist voting in late twenties and thirties Germany; where it was a determinant, this was not in the way the orthodox narrative suggests. Instead, there were three principal determinants of votes for Hitler: urban/rural residence, religion, and then class. In Hamilton’s words:

For a brief synoptic portrait, it is difficult to see how one could proceed with anything less than these three statements: that the vote of the NSDAP in Protestant communities varied inversely with size of community; that the vote in Catholic communities varied positively with size of community; and that, in the cities, the vote increased with the class level of the district. (p. 7)

Hamilton provides a table to summarise the figures here – hopefully I’m successfully reproducing its contents below.

Religion Villages Small Towns
Protestant 70+% 50-60%
Catholic 10% 20%

~~~

Class Cities
Upper and upper middle 40-45%
Lower middle 25-35%
Working 20-25%

Why was the rural vote so split? Essentially, if I understand aright, because there were existing Catholic parties that sucked up all the Catholic vote. Hamilton discusses at some length the tactics and success of the Freikorps in moving against weakened ‘parties of notables’ that lacked substantial resources to counter fascist activism. This wasn’t the case in the smaller Catholic communities, where Catholic parties were dominant and supported by an intergrated Catholic social structure. (In larger, more urban communities, the specifically Catholic community was less hegemonic, so more Catholics voted for alternative parties, including the fascists.)

What was going on in the cities? Hamilton doesn’t really go into this in much detail in this paper. The left parties – the Communists and the Social Democrats – had a stronger base in the cities (and of course one would presume stronger in the lower than in the upper classes). Upper class right figures endorsed or semi-endorsed the fascists as part of an attempt to build an anti-communist coalition – or in earnest, as a bulwark against working class and revolutionary politics. But I need to read more about all this, including the work of other social and political historians.

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2 Responses to “Richard Hamilton on Hitler’s Electoral Support”

  1. Chuckie Kautsky Says:

    Hamilton’s analysis ignores one significant feature of the urban Nazi support. People who had moved from the countryside into the city. Given this post and the following one on Sternhell and fascism, you would find Peter H. Merkl’s Political violence under the swastika: 581 early Nazis very interesting. At the behest of the party, these early joiners wrote brief political autobiographies. Merkl breaks them down demographically and thematically and does a lot of tedious cross-correlation. Ponderous reading, but very informative.

  2. duncan Says:

    Thanks Chuckie K! To be fair to Hamilton, he does discuss rural to urban migrants in the paper – I just didn’t include it in my summary – I should have done.

    That Merkl book sounds very interesting – thanks for the recommendation. Whether I can get ahold of the thing easily is another matter, I don’t see it in any libraries near me. But I’ll try to seek it out. The other book I’ve currently got in mind to read on this topic is Theweleit’s Male Fantasies.


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