It is often believed that Hitler was evil personified and therefore had he been nullified at an earlier point in time, historical atrocities would not have occurred. I disagree with this perspective, as I am of the conviction that had Hitler been killed at an earlier date, not only would have the Nazi movement endured, but the Second World War could have still transpired, but the dynamics would have been radically different from actual historical events.
This thesis will be explored by being broken into four parts, firstly the importance of Hitler on Nazism and Germany, secondly the possible alternative to Hitlerism, thirdly explore the elements at play that were not Nazi-affiliated and finally I will examine the alternative timeline and how events may have took place.
Before going further, I must first explore the concept of counterfactualism.
Counterfactuals are ‘what if’ statements. Many scholars dismiss counterfactuals, as they cannot be proven. The difference between factual and counterfactual arguments is further blurred when we recognized that we need to understand the factual and counterfactual beliefs of historical actors to account for their behaviour. For example, according to E.H. Carr the Bolshevik Revolution was highjacked by Stalin, therefore socialism would have developed differently without him. It must be understood; philosophers have long recognized that ‘facts’ are social constructions. They do not deny that reality exists quite independent of any attempt to understand it. Counterfactuals are an essential ingredient of scholarship. They help determine the research questions we deem important and the answers we find to them. They are also necessary to evaluate the political, economic, and moral benefits of real-world outcomes. These evaluations in turn help drive future research.
The Role of Adolf Hitler
In the Nazi version of history, Hitler came to power to save Germany in much the same way of Christ had come to save the world. In both cases, their careers were predetermined by their superhuman destiny. However the fact remains, contrary to orthodox belief, Hitler was actually interchangeable. Although he had played an important role in the 20th Century, it was due to the numerous factors at play that set the stage of a ‘Hitler-figure’ to rise to power. Therefore if he were assassinated, he would be simply replaced by another, perhaps more patient and intelligent man than himself.
The reality is that the Nazis were trapped by the circumstances of their time. It was during this atmosphere that the German people heard Hitler speak. As Jutta Rudiger stated “The only explanation was that in the poverty the people was suffering …in that context Hitler’s statements seemed to be the bringer of salvation.” I would argue that it was only Hitler’s individual ability and charisma which set him apart from the numerous other political parties and personalities, who also promised national emancipation.
In regards to the actual ideology of National Socialism, the essential manifesto is known as being Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf, where Hitler had dictated his beliefs and goals of Nazism. This particular type of fascism consisted of the glorification of war and conquest and the absolute power of the authoritarian state; the belief in the Aryans as the master race, hatred of Jews and Slavs; the contempt for democracy and humanism. On the issue of economics, due to his anti-Semitism, he was scornful of both communism and capitalism. He linked anti-capitalism as being ‘Jewish’ war profiteering and racketeering, drawing a distinction between healthy ‘industrial capital’ and the evil of ‘Jewish financial capital’. It was only later, during the mid-1920’s where Hitler married Marxism, Bolshevism and the Soviet Union to Jewish rule. Initially there were no mention of the need for ‘Lebensraum’, but there were notes of the ‘Brotherhood towards the East’. He initially was of the mindset of the existence of ‘national’ Russians and the ‘Bolshevization of Russia’ brought about the Jews. I would argue that it was only when he established in his mind that a ‘Jewish Mafia’ had usurped Russian sovereignty, along with capitalist Big Business deciding to give him political support during the 1930’s, Hitler transformed his pathology into becoming almost completely anti-Communist. Another element of his dogma was the establishment of the ‘Führerprinzip’, the leadership principal: The Leader is the Idea, and each party member has to obey only the Leader.
I am of the mindset that Hitler’s world-view was only a brand of German-fascism, known as Hitlerism. The strongest internal threat within the Far-Right to Hitlerism was Strasserism. This establishes the fact that during the early days of the Nazi Movement, Hitler was easily replaceable.
Strasserism & The Nazi Left
It was Gregor Strasser, along with his brother Otto, which offered the biggest threat to Hitler’s dominance of the Movement. Gregor became the unofficial alternative leader of the Nazi Movement. Nobody else, with exception Hitler contributed to the growth of Nazism. It was during the time where Hitler, after the failed putsch attempt resided in jail, where Strasser rose to the challenge and offered some form of leadership. Like Hitler, he won the Iron Cross First Class and was also an effective public speaker. Unlike Hitler, he was a suburb organizer who managed to rapidly construct the NSDAP’s organization in North Germany. He was unceasing in his efforts during the ‘leaderless time’ of the 1920’s and created 262 local branches from scratch. His credentials for becoming Leader of the Nazi Movement further increased, where during the 1924 State and National Elections he polled enough votes to become the second largest party in Bavaria. In Germany, he won 2 million votes and obtained 32 seats in the Reichstag, with one going to himself. During 1932, sections of business started to view Hitler as an obstacle to attaining a conservative government; Strasser was offered a position in cabinet. Tactfully speaking, unlike Hitler’s ‘all-or-nothing’ stance, he was prepared to join coalitions, explore alliances and even enter government without being Chancellor. Strasser was even offered the position of Vice-Chancellor. It was that Strasser knew in the long-term, his palace-coup against Hitler would only split the movement; therefore he refused the offers and retired from politics.
In regards to ideology, he was more idealistic in his aim to win over the working class. As he stated “We are socialists. We are deadly enemies of the capitalist economic system!” Although he was also strongly anti-Semitic, he was much less obsessive compared to his peers. Being that he was ferociously independent, he refused to submit to the Führer Cult. Otto carried on the quasi-independent streak of Nazism. This consisted of radical mystical nationalism, strong anti-capitalism, social reform and anti-Westernism. Rejection of bourgeois society produced an admiration for the Bolsheviks. The ideological showdown came when Otto argued with Hitler about the principals of the National Socialist Movement. According to Otto, he claimed that ‘A Leader must serve the Idea’. He accused Hitler of trying to ‘strangle the social revolution’ through collaboration with the bourgeois Right. Hitler angrily denounced Strasserism as ‘nothing but Marxism’.
Another personality of the Nazi-Left was propaganda-mastermind, Joseph Goebbels. This may be surprising, as Goebbels is known as being a complete sycophant of Adolf Hitler. However it was Strasser’s version of Nazism attached him to the Movement. In his diary, he wrote ‘It would be better to end our existence under Bolshevism than endure slavery under capitalism’. He also went on to write an open letter to a Communist Leader assuring him that Nazism and Communism variants of the same creed and questioned why they were fighting each other. When it was proposed that the riches of the deposed royalty be redistributed back to the public, which was supported by the Communists and Social Democrats, Strasser and Goebbels advocated support for the campaign. This enraged Hitler, as big industrialists were beginning to support him and if Strasser and Goebbels achieved their goal, his income would end. When Hitler-supports clashed with their ideas, Goebbels was said to have shouted, “I demand that the petty bourgeois Adolf Hitler be expelled from the Nazi Party!” It was only when Hitler flattered his ego with expensive outings and praise did he convert to Hitlerism.
The last major chief of ‘Leftist-Nazism’ was leader of the paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA) Ernst Rohm. During the infant-days of the Movement, Ernst was officially seen the ‘second man after Hitler’. Under his command, the SA played the role of NSDAP’s paramilitary wing, which worked largely independent of political leadership, which had the intentions of absorbing and thus becoming Nazi Germany’s official military. The independence of the paramilitary organization grew to the point that it actually defied direct orders from Hitler. By the beginning of 1934 the Rohm and the Führer’s relationship had almost completely deteriorated. It was perceived by the SA troops, that Hitler when attaining political power in 1933, had essentially ‘sold-out’ and a ‘Second Revolution’ was needed to turn the National Revolution into a National Socialist one. Not only did Rohm openly criticise Hitler, he intensified SA activities. This represented a challenge as the SA had two and a half million troops could threaten a confrontation with the Military, and the whole basis of the regime could be questioned. It was only during the purge of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ could Hitler finally established himself as the undisputed leader of German-Fascism.
The Field Marshal: The Last Bastion to Nazism
As indicated above, neither Hitler nor the Nazi Party could ever achieve electoral success in the early thirties without the approval of the Establishment, thus President Paul von Hindenburg. Being a staunch Monarchist, he was no supporter of the Weimar Republic. However being a deep patriot he felt duty bound to uphold German interests. Due to his status, he became a living icon among German people. He was rewarded as being voted as the Weimar Republic’s first President, as an independent. It was only his prestige which could unite the Conservative Monarchists, Catholic Centrists, Social Democrats as well as Trade Unions in what was known as an ‘Iron Front’. This Front acted as an opposition to Hitler, successfully halted his ascent to Government. Later during the 1932 Election, where NSDAP achieved their strongest result of 37.4%, Hindenburg was forced to entertain the idea of Hitler in Cabinet. However it was due to his ‘all or nothing’ mentality, when Hitler demanded the Chancellorship, the Field Marshal refused to appoint the ‘Bohemian Corporal’. The President was increasing seen as the ‘Guardian of the Constitution.’ However when the rise of socialism and parliamentary parallelization became apparent, Hindenburg decided to appoint Hitler, rather than declaring a State of Emergency.
It must be understood that Hindenburg personally despised Hitler and his policies. For instance, he prevented Hitler from exempting Jewish war veterans from a law that banned ‘non-Aryans’ from professional civil service.Although after the 1933 Reichstag Fire, he allowed Hitler to pass the Enabling Act, it was under the impression it was a temporary measure. However, by 1934 Hindenburg became increasingly alarmed at SA intentions, he denounced Hitler and considered declaring Martial Law. This forced Hitler to carry out the abovementioned purge. Although Hindenburg was said to have sent telegrams expressing gratitude for the purge, days later he was gravely shocked by what he learned subsequently about the events which transpired. Only three months later he died. Evidently Hindenburg could have, on more than one occasion, prevented Hitler from attaining political power or dismissed him. If only he altered his decisions events would have transpired much differently.
The New History: Nazi Germany under Strasserism
Now that it is established that and alternative brand of Nazism existed and the German Establishment’s relationship towards Hitler was a marriage of convenience, it can be understood that Hitler was actually expendable. It is only now we can explore the ramifications of Hitler’s death and investigate the proposed counterfactual.
The ‘point of divergence’ would have occurred during the crucial year of 1934. At this time, the Nazi-Left and Hitlerism were on a collision course. It is my interpretation of events that had the Left been more courageous and organized in their quest for a ‘Second Revolution’, when finally revolting against Hitler, could have brought about a Civil War. The traditional ruling elite, instead of pressuring Hitler to purge Germany of the internal threat, decide that the Leftist threat could be controllable, as just Hitler had been, and decided the solution was to eliminate Hitler. President Hindenburg, who was never truly supportive of Hitler, allows the killing to take place. Instead of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ occurring, in the name of national stability, Adolf Hitler is slain.
One of the major reasons that the Establishment refused to discard Nazism and set up an authoritarian government was that it was realized Hitler enjoyed legitimate mass popularity among the German people. Therefore, news of his death would cause outrage and national mourning. Thus replacing the Hitler Regime with a non-Nazi form of Government may be interrupted as disrespectful and would encounter massive resistance. In order to assure a smooth transition to a post-Hitler Germany, another more compliant form of Nazism would be required to be installed. Given the fact that the political structure already existed, it was decided that the Left was to be transported into power, with Strasser succeeding Hitler as Führer. Although there was apprehension about his Leftist tendencies, it was already established that he could be pragmatic and work in coalitions.
The new face of Nazi Germany, under the ideology of Strasserism sees a dramatic shift in policies. The Nazi-State is streamlined and does not have conflicting agencies. However the readjusted attitudes within Germany had radical changes in regards to its relationship towards the USSR. I concur with the Nazi-Left’s criticism of Hitlerism, in that Hitler had to water-down his policies in order to be allowed in Cabinet. Being that Strasser was sympathetic to Marxism, the entire relationship is altered.
It is my estimation that Strasserism was the true face of Nazism. As mentioned previously, the original goal of Nazism was to combine Nationalism with Socialism. It was viewed among original Nazis members that they were distant ideological cousins to Marxism and their natural enemy was the Capitalist-West. It due to these fundamental agreements, I envision that a Nazi-Soviet Pact would have occurred. But unlike Hitler, who sought it for strategic reasons, this alliance would have been on sincere grounds.
The idea of these two perceived archrivals working together is not far-fetched, as even under the counterfeit partnership that Hitler had created, saw a secret protocol Hitler and Stalin decided in the division of Europe. This protocol gave Stalin the allowance to invade a number of countries; with the first being Finland after it was labelled a ‘fascist aggressor’. With the direct Soviet help Germany invaded Norway, as Stalin allowed the use of a Soviet naval bases for Hitler to launch his attack. The Soviet Union became the main supplier of foodstuffs and raw materials for the Nazi War Machine. Furthermore, there are cases of fleeing Jews, escaping Nazism fled to the Soviet Union, only to be rounded up and sent back to Nazi Germany as a gesture of friendship. There was also massive SS and KVP assistance, to the point that the NKVP actually trained the Gestapo and how to build concentration camps.If such collaboration was carried out under Hitler, it is a very likely that the relationship would be even stronger under Strasserism.
The grounds for a legitimate alliance becomes probable, especially when Strasserism and Stalinism are compared. Being that Strasser would have kept the original view that a ‘Jewish Mafia’ had usurped Russian sovereignty, he would still had a longing for Germany’s ‘Brotherhood in the East’. These feelings would have been increased when Stalin implemented his own version of socialism know as ‘Socialism in One Country’. He denounced World Revolution and showed a strong appeal to Russian nationalism and branded those in favour of internationalism as being sceptical of their ability to uphold the ideal of Marxism. Stalin also long harboured an anti-Semitic streak, dating back to the Russian Revolution. He drew a distinction between a ‘true Russian faction’ within Bolshevism and a ‘Jewish faction’. This was nothing more than ‘Red Fascism’. Ironically their alliance would be achieving what Karl Marx intended, in that other industrialized countries would join the World Revolution, which looked likely in Germany during the interwar period.
Due to the transforming geo-political events, world alliances would have reacted accordingly. For instance Mussolini would absolutely refuse membership of such a union. Due to the changing circumstances, Il Duce would have realized that Italo Balbo was correct in his assessment about joining forces with Germany; “You will all wind up shining the shoes of the Germans!” And that Italy should align itself with the United Kingdom. This is not an inconceivable possibility, as Fascist Italy had always been seen in a somewhat sympathetic light in the UK. Churchill has been quoted in saying “If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism.”
Having said this, the communist ill-feeling was mutual, as Moscow had always perceived itself as being an anti-fascist fighter. The Communist interpretation of Fascism was that it was the true face of Capitalism. According to Trotsky, fascism was the last gasp of capitalism long prophesied in Marxist scripture. Within this new historical context, the Axis would evolve into being Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In turn, the Allies in this new timeline would consist of France, the British Empire, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Fearing the now very real possibility of the domino theory of socialism, the United States would have indirectly joined.
It is my belief that a Second World War would have still occurred. Under such international tensions, world war was inevitable. However, it is my objective opinion, that in this new geo-political context, the Allies would have lost. The combined threat manpower and rare materials of Soviet Union, along the renowned reputation of ‘German efficiency’ would truly been an unstoppable juggernaut.
There is also the aspect of the possible aftermath to consider. Having lost the war, the US would never have implemented ‘Operation Paperclip’. This was the assimilation of the Nazi scientific elite and employ them in intelligence agencies and later the Space Program. As a result, the Space Race would have never occurred. The most likely scenario would be this ‘Grand Socialist Bloc’ of the Axis, with their combined scientific knowledge and technology would have achieved Space Exploration.
In conclusion, when exploring the counterfactual of Hitler being assassinated during 1934, the presumption of Hitler being killed would have prevented another world war is exposed to be a false belief. What does become apparent is that Hitler in power may have been the best outcome the Allies could have hoped for. As mentioned in my introduction, having that the Second World War would have still occurred, regardless who was in power, it is important to realize that the dynamics would have been radically different from actual historical events, which wouldn’t guarantee the situation to the favour of the Allies. It is my contention that Hitler proved the best option available of an inevitable war.
Bosworth, R (2010) Mussolini, Bloomsbury Academic, United Kingdom
Bullock A (1993) Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, HarperCollins, United States
Di Scalia, S (2008) Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present, Westview Press, United States
Dorpalen, A (1964) Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic, Princeton University Press, United States
Goldberg, J (2007) Liberal Fascism, Penguin Books, United States
Goltz, A (2009) Hindenburg, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom
Hancock, E (2008) Ernst Rohm: Hitler’s SA Chief of Staff, Palgrave Macmillan, Australia
Hitler, H (2011) Mein Kampf, Pimlico, United Kingdom
Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 9 October 2008.
Kershaw, I (2008) Hitler, Penguin Books, United Kingdom
Lebow, R (2000) What’s so different about a Counterfactual?, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom
Merriman, J (2010) A History of Modern Europe, W. W. Norton & Company, United States
Powell, R (2008) Hitler’s Bodyguard, Nugus/Martin Production, Australia
Rees, L (2005) The Nazis: A Warning from History, Random House Group, United States
Shirer, W (2011) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, United States
Snore, E (2008) The Soviet Story, UEN, European Union
Yaacov, R (1995) Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union, Routledge, United Kingdom
 Richard Lebow, What’s so different about a Counterfactual? (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 551.
 Ibid., 555.
 Ibid. 556.
 Ibid. 556.
 Ibid. 558.
 Laurence Rees, The Nazis: A Warning from History, (Random House Group, 2005), 14.
 Ibid. 37.
 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 97.
 Ian Kershaw, Hitler (Penguin Books, 2008), 92.
 Ibid., 201.
 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 122.
 Ian Kershaw, Hitler (Penguin Books, 2008), 166.
 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 123.
 Ian Kershaw, Hitler (Penguin Books, 2008), 245.
 Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism (Penguin Books, 2007), 77.
 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 122.
 Ian Kershaw, Hitler (Penguin Books, 2008), 200.
 Ibid., 201.
 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 126.
 Ibid., 126.
 Ibid., 126.
 Ibid., 127.
 Eleanor Hancock, Ernst Rohm: Hitler’s SA Chief of Staff, (Palgrave Macmillan, , 2008), 131.
 Ibid., 106.
 Ibid., 108.
 Allan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, (HarperCollins, 1993), 359.
 Ibid., 361.
 Anna Goltz, Hindenburg, (Oxford University, 2009), 165.
 Ibid., 168.
 Ibid., 168.
 Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic, (Princeton University Press), 424.
 Anna Goltz, Hindenburg, (Oxford University, 2009), 174.
 Powell, R (2008) Hitler’s Bodyguard, Nugus/Martin Production, Australia
 Andreas Dorpalen, Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic, (Princeton University Press), 480.
 Allan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, (HarperCollins, 1993), 202.
 Ro’i Yaacov, Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union, (Routledge,1995), 103-06
 John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe, (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 928.
 Spencer Di Scalia, Italy: From Revolution to Republic, 1700 to the Present, (Westview Press, 2008), 234.
 Antoine Capet, The Creeds of the Devil: Churchill between the Two Totalitarianisms, 1917-1945, The Churchill Centre, https://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/725-the-creeds-of-the-devil-churchill-between-the-two-totalitarianisms-1917-1945#sdfootnote65sym
 Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism (Penguin Books, 2007), 76.
 Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 9 October 2008.