In a recent interview in Die Welt, historian Thomas Weber raises some interesting counterfactuals about Hitler’s political radicalization after World War I.
As part of his newly published book, Wie Adolf Hitler zum Nazi wurde (How Adolf Hitler Became a Nazi), Weber builds upon his previous research on Hitler’s experience of World War I to show how the future Führer was radicalized not by Germany’s military defeat in November of 1918, but by the German government’s signing of the Treaty of Versailles in July of 1919.
Weber further echoes historian Brendan Simms’s thesis that Hitler became an antisemite due to his alleged oppoisition towards Anglo-American capitalism. Weber places Hitler on the left wing of the political spectrum in the pivotal years 1919-1920, declaring that he was not yet anti-Bolshevik. Indeed, he claims that Hitler was interested in exploring the possibility of a German alliance with Russia. This thesis upends the conventional view that Hitler’s antisemitism was motivated by anti-Bolshevism (ie. the notion that the Bolshevik Revolution was part of a Jewish plot for world domination) and the notion that he stood firmly on the political right. (Weber argues that Hitler only arrived at this position relatively late, around the time he wrote Mein Kampf in 1924).
Based on these claims, Weber arrives at several provocative counterfactuals at the end of the interview.
Asked by Die Welt, if there was any way that Hitler might have averted going down his path of political radicalization, Weber responded:
“If there had been a different ending to the Russian Civil War and a lasting alliance between Germany and a monarchistic Russia -- which Hitler favored at the time -- then there probably never would have been any ‘Lebensraum’ policy developed for Eastern Europe.”
Die Welt also asked, “was Hitler the inevitable…consequence of Germany’s defeat in World War I?”
To which Weber responded: “No. If Bavaria had been able to democratize after the…war, and had been able to evolve gradually instead of experiencing revolutionary turmoil, then Hitler never would have found a stage to enable his rise.”
My main interest lies in the first counterfactual. Weber speculates that a victory of the Whites in the Russian Civil War would have prevented Hitler from seeing Russia as Germany’s enemy and a zone of future colonization. Instead, he would have regarded the country as an ally. I need to read Weber’s book to see the evidence, but I have two thoughts:
1) I don’t see how this counterfactual squares with the idea of Hitler’s antisemitism emerging from the left – ie. from a stance of sympathy towards revolutionary socialism (however temporary). One would think that a left-leaning Hitler would have opposed a right-wing Russia that had triumphed over the Bolsheviks in the civil war.
2) I also don’t see how, if Russia had reverted back to a monarchy – say in 1919 or 1920 – why this would have dissuaded Hitler from pursuing a policy of Lebensraum in the east anyway. Germany and Russia were bitter enemies in World War I when both were conservative regimes. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk certainly made it clear that Germany had expansionist designs on Russia.
For me, the question is this: if Hitler and the Nazis become powerful, as in real history, but the Whites had won the Civil War (which never happened), might not Hitler have ended up invading Russia in a different kind of World War II regardless?
And might he not also have pursued the Final Solution of the Jewish question as well? Hitler still would have been an antisemite. Germany still would have been humiliated. How much of history would have unfolded the way it did in reality? This raises the question of how much the Nazis’ designs in the east were motivated by anti-Bolshevism and how much they were rooted in a deterministic kind of eastern expansionism (regardless of what kind of regime existed in Russia and regardless of what kind of ideology was needed to justify conquering it).
These questions all require further thought….