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Rogers, Politics after Hitler, cover

Western Allied Influence on Political Parties in Occupied West Germany

Book Essay on: Daniel Rogers, Politics after Hitler: The Western Allies and the German Party System
(New York: New York University Press, 1995), 206 pages. UCSB: JN3971.A979 R635 1995

by Gregory Klippness
December 4, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com page

About Gregory Klippness

I am a senior history major with a particular interest in European history. I have taken numerous European history classes ranging from classes involving Ancient Greece to the Cold War. I have also an interest in government and have taken a couple of Political Science courses with one having an emphasis on comparing different political systems. I chose to take this class because I wanted to learn about what happened after World War II and Hitler. In deciding to read this book I was able to learn more about this crucial period of West Germany.

Abstract (back to top)

Daniel Rogers takes a look at the influence of the Western Allies on the development of political parties in the West German Zones of occupation. Rogers states that the Allies, fearful of reaction, revolution, nationalism and fragmentation, reacted to German political initiatives by limiting the incipient political party system to fewer and more moderate parties than would have otherwise arisen. By controlling party licenses, names, mergers, meetings and by restricting free speech at certain times, the Western Allies were able to ultimately create a stable democracy in West Germany. Rogers supports his thesis with solid evidence but only analyzes the occupation of Germany from a political viewpoint and neglects to discuss the roles of the German economy and the German people in helping build a democratically stable Germany. Therefore his conclusion that "without allied intervention, 1949 would have been 1919 all over again," is nothing more than an assumption based on one snippet of a bigger picture.

Essay (back to top)

Politics after Hitler by Daniel Rogers is about how the Western Allies played a major role in the development of the political parties in the West German Zones from 1945 to 1949. On page ix in the Preface, Rogers states “The thesis of this book is that the Allies, fearful of reaction, revolution, nationalism and fragmentation, reacted to German political initiatives by limiting the incipient political party system to fewer and more moderate parties than would have otherwise arisen.” His thesis covers the main question that his book asks, which is how and why was suppression and coercion used by the Allies in order to achieve democratic stability? His conclusions to that question are based on archival research done in the four countries involved: United States, France, England and Germany. Rogers supports his thesis with solid evidence but only analyzes the occupation of Germany from a political viewpoint and neglects to discuss the roles of the German economy and the German people in helping build a democratically stable Germany.Therefore his conclusion that “Without Allied intervention, 1949 would have been 1919 all over again,” is nothing more than an assumption based on one snippet of a bigger picture (Rogers, ix-x).

As stated in Rogers' thesis, the Allied fear of reaction from the right led to limiting these political parties in reaction to the party's initiatives. He felt that the Allies feared conservatives due to the social and political inequities following World War II and would seek to take Germany back to a distant past that produced two world wars. In the U.S. zone, the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei) was considered too popular and too far right by U.S. officials, but it was already licensed. The Americans had to choose between banning a licensed party that was deemed to be democratic or else the party would not have been licensed in the first place and the other option was to allow the NPD to grow. The solution the Americans chose was to not ban the party but rather to limit its growth by continually refusing to grant the NPD a state wide license throughout 1946. Poor election results for the NPD followed which resulted in the Americans telling the NPD that more support would be necessary before applying for a state wide license (Rogers, 55f). In 1948, the NPD gained more support as proven by more electoral success, but the Americans countered with claims of questionable electoral tactics as well as unresolved charges of party sponsors lying on denazification questionnaires to keep the NPD's growth under control. In 1949, Article 21 of the Basic Law proclaimed political parties may be formed but the Americans still refused to make the NPD a state level party, resulting in the NPD gaining no representatives into the Bundestag during the first parliament elections in West Germany (Rogers, 57). By limiting the party to below the State level, the Americans were able to react successfully to the threat of a large party on the reactionary right and by not banning the party altogether, they were able to not increase the NPD's popularity by making the group appear as martyrs of German political freedom from the occupying powers if they were banned.

From the other side of the political spectrum came a threat from the revolutionary left that produced a rare occasion of tri-partite cooperation. If the Socialist Unity Party (SED) formed, the Western Allies (France, Britain and America) agreed they would only recognize it if the members, not the leaders, of the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) and the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) demanded unity in a ballot (Rogers, 81). This was a reaction to KPD and SPD merging because of pressure from the Soviet Military Administration in East Germany, thus creating a fear that a large centrally controlled Communist party would be the first four zone party to form that could claim representation for all of Germany, East and West (Rogers, 88ff). The Americans countered this by only allowing mergers at the state level, and no meetings could be held under the name “SED.” In addition, any member who wished to support the SED had to join the KPD, thus political affiliation was being dictated by an occupying power in order to preserve the non revolutionary left that existed in the SPD. In order to merge in the British zone, the KPD and SPD would have to dissolve and apply for a new license which Rogers believes would never have been granted. The French had a sterner policy of refusal and would only accept a merger if the entire memberships of the KPD and the SPD voted for it which would have been highly unlikely (Rogers, 82f).

In response to these actions of the Western Allies, the U.S. zone KPD proposed to change its name to “SED” in 1947 but the proposal was rejected by the Americans. They said the name change that implied a merger with the SPD had occurred and it also brought up the question of trans-zonal control of a single party since the Soviet zone had already established an “SED,” and the four power Allied Control Council had not yet reached an agreement for how parties could organize in all occupied zones of Germany (Rogers, 88f) . The next strategy for the KPD to achieve a four zone party was to propose a name change to “SVD” as a prelude to a name change by the SED in the eastern zone to “SVD” so that they could claim a unity of Socialism for all of Germany. The Americans treated the proposed name change as an alteration of the party's license and therefore they would be subject to a new license approval that would have most likely been denied. The British followed the lead of the U.S. on name changes, but France took another approach by refusing applications for a name change, as well as banning “SVD” propaganda. They even outlawed the Socialist's People's Party name as well as the initials “SVD” (Rogers, 91ff). By controlling the changing of party names, the Allies showed to just what extent they were willing to go to interfere in the formation of parties in order to guide political parties away from the Allies' fears and towards the Allied vision of a democratic Germany.

The KPD and the SPD, on the other hand, shared a vision of a strong, united, independent German state, but Allied occupation and the Allied dominance, the federalism and the free market that came with it, stood in their vision's way. This gave the Allies a reason to fear a strong German nationalistic party like the SPD and its leader Kurt Schumacher. The Americans felt he was trying to goad them into making him a martyr of American oppression if his rights to publish articles and make speeches critical of the Allies, were to be curtailed. The American and British response was that no restrictions were to be put on Schumacher (Rogers, 105). On the other hand, the French felt that the economic and the political unity of Germany as put forth by Schumacher were not in line with their goals of a decentralized Germany and so their reaction to the nationalism of the SPD was to not allow Schumacher to speak in their zone. Not only did the French prevent free speech but other methods they used to curtail the growth of the SPD were phone taps, opening mail, reading the mail and censoring the mail of the SPD news publisher. They also banned the use of the word “Reich” in the newspaper and even forced the editor to remove the “D” from SPD since they felt that “Deutschland” would have indicated French support for a national party. In addition, German politicians were not allowed to leave the French zone for meetings without permission, and if this did occur, the other Allied zone where the meeting was held would have had to return that German politician (Rogers, 114f). These methods, usually not associated with democratic governments, were used to control and limit the SPD and its nationalistic ideology that not only threatened the French goal of a decentralized Germany but also the Allied goal of a democratic Germany.

Although the Allies wanted a democratic Germany, they did not want an overly democratic Germany as associated with the Weimar period. Rogers cites the sheer number of parties in Weimar Germany's Reichstag as one of the biggest reasons for the turmoil that led to Germany's surrender to National Socialism, an occurrence that the Allies feared would be duplicated (Rogers, 119). One of the causes for the rise in number of these fragmenting parties is contributed by Rogers to the electoral system of proportional representation in which the number of parliamentary delegates are chosen from a list submitted by the party and seats are decided according to the percentage of votes the party received (Rogers, 120). The French solution as always was the simplest and least democratic of the Allies' methods to control this perceived problem numerous fragmenting parties by allowing only four parties (Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Communists and Liberals) (Rogers, 122). The British in 1945 created zonal parties, hoping that it would siphon off smaller groups' popular support, then in 1946 they stopped licensing parties without proof of popular support. From 1947 to 1949 an almost total ban on new parties, like the French, became their policy (Rogers, 125). Another way for the Allies to curb smaller political parties was through electoral law, this led the Americans to recommend a ten percent clause that would restrict splinter parties and the British favored their own system of “first past the post” (FPTP) in which a candidate in a single member district with a plurality captured the seat. However, German pressure from the SPD, who claimed that a FPTP would mean political suicide against the CDU as well as forcing it into an electoral pact with the KPD because it was a one man system, pushed the British to use a modified system two-thirds of the seats would be elected by FPTP and one-third elected by proportional representation (Rogers, 136f). It was this hybrid system that was created from the Allied response to their fears of fragmenting parties, and it was this system that contributed to the stability of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Overall, Rogers does a very good job of giving evidence to support his thesis. He does a good job of stating his intentions and following through on them, such as his clearly stated thesis in the preface or explaining his intention of the conclusion chapter or even the beginning of Chapter One where Rogers explains the need for the back story before occupation and before delving into the heart of his book which proceeds in a fear by fear type of progression to the end. Rogers argues that proportional representation was responsible for the numerous groups that existed, and that they were a huge factor for Weimar Germany's fall. His counter argument mentions John Fitzgerald of London, who was cited by the KPD as an expert on proportional representation, who claimed that the proportional representation system was reducing the number of parties, who were mostly holdovers from the Wilhelmine Empire days until 1929 when the Great Depression hit, undermining the proportional representation system's positive work (Rogers, 135). Not discussing the economic situation that helped the Bonn Republic become stable and undermined the Weimar Republic, hurts this book from a viewpoint that not all contributing factors that have led to a stable Germany have been taken into account.

In leaving out the importance the economy and the German people had on an occupied Germany, Rogers does not take a complete view of what contributed to a successful occupation of Germany. In Thomas A. Schwartz' review in the Journal of Modern History, he mentions the “Economic Miracle” that allowed for the refugees to successfully integrate into German society, but Rogers does not even approach any discussion of or possible impact upon the new government's stability deriving from the “Economic Miracle” (Schwartz, 647). Rogers does tackle the methods used by the Allies of controlling the millions of refugees and how they were only allowed to join established parties rather than being able to form a huge party that they feared would have had irredentist claims on the territories they just arrived from. In a review for the American Historical Review, James M. Diehl points out that Rogers neglects the German people themselves and their contribution to the stable democracy that ultimately was created (Diehl, 1571). Schwartz also mentions Edward Peterson's book Retreat to Victory: the American Occupation of Germany, in which the German people are given most of the credit for shaping the occupation and its policies while the Allies had little effect, a stance different from Rogers' (Schwartz, 648). Although he fails to address these counter arguments, in his defense it is not a book on economics after Hitler or Germans after Hitler but rather Politics after Hitler and therefore, only the realm of politics is explored. Only readers looking for more in depth analysis of the occupation from the viewpoint of Allied interference in the formations of political parties should read this book, as casual readers will probably find it a difficult read and monotonous.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)

Book Reviews

  • James M. Diehl, The American Historical Review, Vol. 101, No. 5 (Dec. 1996), p. 1571
    Diehl writes a positive review of Politics after Hitler as he calls it “brief but useful.” He feels that Rogers is correct in noting the role of the Western Allies in establishing a stable party system in West Germany but that he overemphasizes it at times, thereby neglecting indigenous factors.
  • Keith Robbins, International Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4, Special RIIA 75 th Anniversary Issue (Oct., 1995), pp. 863-864.
    Robbins writes that Politics after Hitler contains useful information on Allied intervention during the post war years. He feels Rogers argues successfully that the Western Allies achieved their objective of marginalizing extreme parties on the left and the right even without a grand strategy. However, he also states that Rogers did not emphasize their different understandings of the nature of party. Robbins feels that the success of the Western Allies is even more remarkable under these circumstances than even Rogers described.
  • Thomas A. Schwartz, from the Journal of Modern History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep., 1997), pp. 647-649.
    Schwartz says that Rogers provides a real service by giving specific details of the Allied interventions that helped to create a stable party system in Western Germany. Schwartz points out that Rogers views this party system as a success for the Western Allies but that Rogers did not take into consideration the objections that have been raised in regards to the political system that was created. However, Schwartz defends Rogers by saying that these objections of resistance to change, special interests influence, and hostility to grassroots democratic movements are common to all Western democracies. Schwartz agrees with Rogers that Allied intervention was a success, especially when compared to the Weimar political structure and party system, and the nightmare that followed.
  • UCSB Hist 133c review by Craig Nelson (2008).

Related Books and Articles

  • David Monod, Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945-1953, ( University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 320 pages, UCSB: ML275.5 .M66 2005.
    About the occupying U.S army and their attempts at rebuilding German cultural life by denazification of the German music community. The Music Control Branch of the Information Control Division of Military Government felt the need to bar all former Nazis and anyone who showed an authoritarian personality from the stages and concert halls. New European and American music was imported and the anti-Nazi music was promoted. This was a conscious effort to prevent feelings of German moral and cultural superiority that led to the Nazis justifying German expansionism and Aryan superiority.
  • David Pike, The Politics of Culture in Soviet-Occupied Germany, 1945-1949, (Stanford University Press; 1 st Edition, 1993), 704 pages, UCSB: DD285 .P55 1992.
    About the policies used by the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany as ordered by Stalin and his military administration to further the interest of Soviet foreign policy. German Communists also assisted the Soviet occupiers and many were imported from the Soviet Union in order to infuse German art and literature with Soviet political priorities. It highlights the development of Stalinist culture, early stages of the Cold War and the subsequent division of Germany.
  • James F. Tent, Mission on the Rhine: Reeducation and Denazification in American-occupied Germany,(University of Chicago Press, 1982), 388 pages, UCSB: LC93.G4 T46 1982.
    About America's occupation policies in order to democratize Germany by making it over in the American image. Discusses policies of restructuring the school system, university reform, denazification and cultural exchange in order to achieve that goal. Tent bases his research on declassified documents and personal interviews with veterans of the Occupation.
  • Charles D. Beibel, “American Efforts for Educational Reform in Occupied Germany, 1945-1949, A Reassessment,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3, Special Issue: Educational Policy and Reform in Modern Germany (Autumn, 1982), pp. 277-287.
    American policies for re­­educating Germans during Occupation to achieve cultural reorientation. Their goal was to assist Germany in becoming an active and responsible member of the European community by developing their democratic institutions and practices.

Web Sites

  • Wikipedia, “Allied Control Council,” (Nov. 7, 2008), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_Control_Council.
    Good for a quick overview of the subject with links to other areas involving the topic, but information is not checked for accuracy.
  • A. Jeffers, “Politics in Occupied Germany,” (Jan, 1946), http://marxists.kgprog.com/history//etol/newspape/ni/vol12/no01/jeffers.htm.
    This is an article on the condition of Germany at the beginning of the occupation from an eyewitness with a Marxist viewpoint.
  • Alexander Ganse, “ Germany Occupied, 1945-1948: The Western Zones,” (Jan. 3, 2007), http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/germany/ger4548west.html.
    Basic overview of West Germany from 1945 to 1949 but has excellent links to documents and images, some are in German.
  • Purpose Games, “Occupied Germany 1945 to 1949,” (Feb. 21, 2008), http://www.purposegames.com/game/germany-1945-49-quiz.
    Pretty fun game of matching the occupied zone to the occupying country, good tool for getting to know the geography of Germany.
  • Library of Congress, “Enactments and Approved Papers of the Control Council and Coordinating Committee,” (July 25, 2006), http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/enactments-home.html.
    A nine-volume series compiled and printed by the Legal Division of the Office of the U.S. Military Government for Germany of enactments and approved papers of the Control Council and Coordinating Committee of the Allied Control Authority in Occupied Germany from 1945 to 1948.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/16/08; last updated:
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