The obvious place to look for any student of 20th century Germany is the rise of the Nazi party. Their political wrath is not limited to the anti-Semitic propaganda during their reign starting in 1933, but is evident throughout Weimar Berlin through election campaigns and early Goebbels propaganda. Not surprisingly, wrath also served a pivotal role in Communist politics in Weimar Germany, as the other extreme that countered the Nazi menace. Art from the Dada movement and the countless manifestos of left wing groups frequently relied on instilling anger at the conditions of the worker and the bourgeois system that kept them oppressed. Still others were were angry at the very wrath displayed by these extreme political forces.
Wrath was a key motivator for the masses to take action, and much of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands’s (KPD’s) platform centered around the injustices and violence of the capitalists and fascists. There are two sides of the relationship between wrath and Communism - the first is the portrayal of those in power as wrathful forces, and the anger towards these figures. The other is the physical violence inherent to mass protest, which was a staple of the Communist movement in Weimar Germany. These two outlets for wrath are closely related;more often than not one was used as the motivation for the other. This is especially clear when observing calls to action, which intrinsically relied on the negative portrayal of the adversary, as well as street battles, where the Communists could utilize the violence of the Right as a political tool.
Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the KPD, called for a response to Nazi terror with “the most offensive, physical mass struggle” (Weitz 1997, 168). This violence was a response to the violence of the Right, and many in favor of the street fighting tactic were those directly threatened by Nazi violence. Thälmann himself stated, “the resolution of the Central Committee should not serve to weaken in the slightest the mass struggle of the proletariat and workers in defense against the murderous terror of the fascists” (Weitz, 168).
On the other hand, the National Socialists were no less wrathful in their political messaging than extreme leftists. Nazi propaganda falls into four categories: “(1) appeal to national unity based upon the principle ‘The community before the individual’ (Volksgemeinschaft); (2) the need for racial purity; (3) a hatred of enemies which increasingly centered on Jews and Bolsheviks; and (4) charismatic leadership (Führerprinzip)”, and the second and third categories in particular used wrath to reinforce those strands of belief in German society (Welch 2002, 60). In order to achieve the need for national unity, “Hatred of the enemy was manipulated to fulfil this need… and, in order to succeed, need only be addressed to the most simple and violent of emotions and through the most elementary means” (Welch 2002, 91). Later, through the wrath incurred through manipulation of the ‘Jewish Question’, the Nazi propaganda machine could unite the nation against a common threat, commiting many sinful acts in the process. In the Weimar era, of course, Nazi propaganda was not yet completely pervasive nor universally regarded, but still contained these strains of wrath that would go on to become famous. Goebbel’s obviously wrathful writings, like “Why We Are Enemies of the Jews”, appeared at a time before the Nazis had political clout and well before the burning of the Reichstag. The Liste 9 poster certainly demonstrates anger at the Jews and other enemies listed on the snake. However, in its very nature as a call to vote for the ninth party listing on the German ballot, under more powerful parties like the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, demonstrates this lack of power alongside extremist wrath.
Finally, wrath was displayed through the delegitimization of the opinions and actions of others. Even today, this is commonly used by political parties to discredit protesters and the opposition – by simply proclaiming that a different group is angry, they can deflect attention away from the actual goal. As Kurt Tucholksy wrote in 1919, “We at the Weltbühne are always being reproached for saying no to everything and not being positive enough… And we have fought - this is taken to be the worst - hate with hate, violence with violence, fist with fist” (Tucholksy 1994, 96). In this article, Tucholksy rages against opponents of the Weltbühne weekly magazine who desired the publication’s criticism of the bourgeoisie might take a less militant approach. Similarly, an individual can elevate themselves by proclaiming to be on a higher intellectual level, as is the case with “An Apolitical Observer Goes to the Reichstag”. In this piece, Roth comments on the meaninglessness of the anger between the Reichstag’s competing parties, and wonders why they cannot simply get something done. Even those who criticize the wrath of others, like Roth and Tucholsky, are not able to fully escape their own anger.
Russell, Bertrand. Skeptical Essays (United Kingdom: Routledge, 1928).
Weitz, Eric D. Creating German Communism, 1890-1990. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997). 168
Welch, David. The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda (New York: Routledge, 2002), 60-91.
Tucholksy, Kurt. "We Nay-Sayers," in Weimar Republic Sourcebook, ed. Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994),