Hitler's Rise to Power, Ideology and Aims

This theme asks you to look at the rise to power of Hitler as an authoritarian single-party leader. You need to consider the circumstances in which his rise to power took place, and the methods used by Hitler to make this successful bid for control of the German state.


Hitler represents a RIGHT-WING RULER for the Paper 2 option, and could therefore be effectively compared with either Lenin or Stalin if the question asked you to look at one left and one right-wing SPS ruler.

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • Analyse the reasons for the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the establishment of a Nazi dictatorship in the period 1929 to 1934. (Nov 06)

  • Analyse the main factors which contributed to Hitler’s rise to power in January 1933. (Nov 05)

Paper 2
  • Evaluate the contribution to the rise to power of Hitler of each of the following: National Socialist ideology; the use of force; economic crises. (Nov 10)

  • Analyse the circumstances that helped one right-wing leader to become the ruler of a single-party state. (May 10 TZ2)

  • In what ways, and to what extent, was propaganda important in the rise and rule of Hitler? (May 10 TZ1)

  • Assess the importance of economic distress and ideological appeal in the rise to power of one left-wing and one right-wing single-party ruler. (Nov 09)

  • “Unpopular rulers or governments, and their overthrow, were responsible for the formation of the majority of twentieth century single-party states.” To what extent do you agree with this assertion? (May 08 TZ2)

  • Analyse the rise to power of either Hitler or Lenin. (May 08 TZ2)

  • Analyse the methods used and the conditions which helped in the rise to power of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 07)

  • “It was personality and not circumstances that brought rulers of single-party states to power.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (Nov 06)

  • To what extent was the rise to power of either Hitler or Mao due to personal appeal and ability? (May 06)

  • Analyse the methods used and the conditions which helped in the rise to power of one ruler of a single-party state. (May 05)


Key dates:
1928-Nazi party get 2.7% of votes
1932- Nazi party 37% of votes
1933-Hitler appointed chanchellor


  • The central issue to be explained is how the Nazi parties managed to transform themselves from a marginalised party that received just 2.6% of the vote in the 1928 election into the largest political party in Germany in July 1932, when 37 % of the German people voted for them.

  • The Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels created a powerful propaganda myth in the 1930s that explained Hitler’s rise to power as providential - i.e. that it was Hitler’s destiny to rule Germany and between 1929 and 1933 the German people finally came to understand this and put their faith in Hitler.

  • However, most modern historians recognise that there are a number of factors that need to be considered beyond Hitler himself in order to understand this chain of events, in particular the set of circumstances created by the impact of the Great Depression in Germany, and the role this played in exacerbating the weaknesses of the Weimar Republic. One final point to observe is that Hitler did not gain the support of the majority of the German people in a democratic election: he was appointed as Chancellor in January 1933 via the ‘backstairs political intrigue’ of the German Right who wished to use Hitler and the Nazi’s popular support to collapse the Weimar democracy in their interests.

  • It is therefore necessary to consider how: i) the force of circumstances, ii) the role of Hitler and the Nazis through ideological appeal and ability, and iii) the political intriguing of Hindenburg and the Right interacted to bring Hitler to power as Chancellor in January 1933 (remember that at that point in time he was Chancellor of a crumbling democratic regime - the Nazi dictatorship was put into place over the following year.

Long-term factors:

Political problems of the Weimar Republic

Weak constitution:
-Through article 48, the president of the Weimar republic had the right to suspend the parliament in times of emergency. Hitler later used this fundamental weakness of the constitution to establish a right-wing dictatorship in conjunction with the Reichstag fire.

-Proportional representation system led to weak coaltion governments, which undermined the credibilty of the Weimar republic. The coaltion consisted of a range of parties and they had a hard time agreeing on anything. For example, there were six coaltion government between 1924-29.

Legacy of the Treaty of Versailles and defeat in WW1:
The new Weimar republic had to tak on the blame of the defeat in WW1 + the humiliating TOV because the republic was set up right after the war. Right-wing + nationalistic elements in Germany resented the fact that Weimar republic accepted TOV + forced German forces to quit the war in 1918. Many felt that the republic had "stabbed them in the back".

Economic weakness of the Weimar Republic
The first economic crisis of the Weimar repulbc occured in the beginning of the 1920s. Germany had been exhausted by WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles depreived Germany of many of her vital natural resources. For example, Germany lost 75% of its iron ore resources, when Belgian and French troops occupied the Rhineland, which was Germany's industrial centre. Germany was also forced to pay war reprations to the allies after WW1. In response to the growing economic pressure on Germany, the Weimar government started to print more money. As a result, there was hyperinflation and the money syste broke down. However, the economic situation improved slightly, when the Rentenmark was introduced and when Germany got loans from the US called the Dawes plan. But the German economy remained weak and dependent on foreign loans, which contributed to the widespread resentement of the republic. in 1923, industry had only reached 47% of pre-war prodution levels. The weak economy also made voters support more radical political parties such as the Nazis.

Nazi exploitation of the 'stab in the back myth'

Right-wing + nationalistic elements of German society believed that Germany was defeated in the First World War not through any lack of military strength but because the Socialists, Catholics, Jews had 'stabbed Germany in the back' by their revolution in 1918. Hitler exploits this and affirs the correctness of the "Stab in the back myth" in his election campaings. Thus, he gained support from the Right-wing + nationalistic voters and as a result increased the influence of the Nazi party.

Mid-term factors:

Impact of the Great Depression: how did this worsen the economic and political problems of the Weimar regime, and favour Hitler and the Nazis?
In 1928, the flow of foreign capital dried up as the US economy went into a depression. By 1929, German banks were forced to close and by 1932 there were 6 million people unemployed. The coalition government at the time was deeply divdided and and failed to agree on what measures to take.But, in the beginning of 1930s, government agreed to cut goverment expenditure on welfare to cope with the falling tax revenue. Bruning, the president at the time also set up public workschemes, to counter the high unemployment rates, but this was a classical example of too little too late. As a result, the public was deeply discontented with the handling of the economic depression and began to look to more radical parties such as the Nazis.

Hitler's use of effective propaganda to take advantage of circumstances and increase support
In response to the crisis, Hitler made use of propaganda to increase his support. In 1932, he got 37% of all votes. The Nazi party put much effort into educating some of its key memebers to hold speeches to ensure the quality of party campaings. In contrast to other parties, the Nazis used of the new technology such as radio and the Cinema to attract support.
Immediate cause:

Political intrigue on the 'backstairs': why was Hitler appointed Chancellor in January 1933?

In 1932 General von Schleicher replaced von Papen as Chancellor as von Papen had dallen out of favour with the people and the Weimar republic.

Von Schleicher’s policy of land reform worried the conservative President Hindenburg. In January it was decided to get rid of von Schleicher and to try and bring the Nazis into government to try to stabilize German politics. In 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg. Hindenburg and his conservative allies thought that they could control Hitler, but they were wrong. When Hitler was appointed chancellor he called fresh elections for March. The SA began to attack their political enemies especially the Communists and Social Democrats. Their papers were closed down their offices raided, their meetings attacked and their members beaten up. In order to ensure that the military would not intervene, Hitler promised the army that he would tear up the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The Nazis could now act as they pleased.

The Reichstag Fire

In February in 1933 a young Dutch communist Van der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag building. Hitler took advantage of this act and announced that it was a signal for a communist revolt. An emergency law was passed. It allowed the chancellor to suspend the parliament. This law formed the basis of police power in Germany and helped to create a totalitarian state. Hitler had now control over the Weimar republic.

The Enabling Act
The elections held in March saw the Nazis and their allies receive 52% of the vote and a majority in the Reichstag. Hitler passed now passed the emergency law called "the Enabling Act". To gain the support needed for the law, SA mobs surrounded the parliament and threatened any politicians that voted against the law. Hitler succeeded to pass the law and it allowed Hitler as chancellor to pass laws without seeking the approval of parliament or the President. It formed the legal basis of the Nazi dictatorship. The Nazis could now close down the other opposing political parties, arrest political opponents etc. They could crush all opposition. iIn 1934, Hitler was the sole leader of the Nazis and he could start build the Nazi dictorship.

Historiography and evaluation of Hitler's RTP - how are these factors interrelated? Which are most important?

G. Ritter, the Weimar republic collapsed in 1933 to due its inability to win the confidence of the general public. The popular resentment towards Weimar republic was a major factor in helping Hitler seizing power in 1933.
I. Kershaw, chance, luck and tragic miscalculations were a major factor bringing Hitler to power, and causing the downfall of the Weimar republic. There was nothing inevitable about Hitler’s triumph in 1933.
E. Anderson, A major factor contributing to the collapse of the Weimar republic was the shrewdness of the political leaders in the Nazi party. The government believed they could control Hitler in his new position as chancellor in 1933. However, they were wrong Hitler managed to outmanoeuvre the government and establish a single party state thanks to his position as chancellor.

All factors interrelate. The political and economic weaknesses of the Weimar republic, created the foundations for for Hitler's rise to power. However, the success of Hitler's RTP does also have to be contributed to the fact that the Nazi ideology was appealing to the German people + it was unique. Hitler also effectively took advantage of the great depression + stab in the back myth, which hepled him to power.

Explain Nazi ideology + What were Hitler's main aims?

When Hitler was imprisoned in Landsberg prison after the Munich beer hall putsch in 1923, he wrote a book called Mein Kampf, outlining Nazi ideology. Nazi ideology contains strong nationalistic and anti-semitic elements whilst some limited socialist ideas. Hitler wanted to

a) Revise TOV
b) Unify all German speakers in EU into a "Greater German Reich"
c) Lebensraum: acquire more territor in the east to feed his future German empire. A conquest war in the east, would also let Hitler fight Russian communism, and political ideology he deeply resented.

d) Socially reconstruct Germany into a folk community based on traditional German beliefs called Volksgemeinschaft. The new community was very influenced by social Darwinism, It promoted equality of opportunity, but not equality in itself. In many ways, the the Volksgemianschaft demtoted the role of the individual in order to create a loyal German people, which would support the Nazi regime.
e) In this new community, Hitler sought to create a pure Aryan race through anti-Semitic laws.

Nazi ideology also containted a deep hatred for communists and jews. Hitler did viewed jews as a united race that was the root of everything evil. The anti-semitic ideas had two functions in Nazi ideology. Firstly, it provided Hitler with an explanation of everything bad in Germany. Secondly, it provided Hitler with a reason for the policy of Lebensraum. Hitler had to invade the USSR to defeat the stronghold of Jewish Bolshevism (many jews lived in USSR).

Hitler resented socialism + communism, but Nazi ideology contained a few socialist elements in order to appeal tothe workers. For example, Hitler would socialize the economy (e.g. profit sharing between managers and workers in factories). However, very few of the socialist ideas were implemented when Hitler rose to power, he focused on foreign + right-wing policies.

(http://www.scribd.com/doc/31086478/IB-History-Revision-Notes-Hitler-Nazi-Germany, http://www.johndclare.net/Weimar6.htm)

(http://www.scribd.com/doc/31086478/IB-History-Revision-Notes-Hitler-Nazi-Germany, http://www.johndclare.net/Weimar6.htm)


Very useful website on this topic: http://www.historyhome.co.uk/europe/hitrise.htm

Excellent site: http://www.funfront.net/hist/total/n-german.htm#great-depression

Another useful revision site with mnemonics: http://www.johndclare.net/Weimar7.htm