As you will know if you read this blog with any regularity, my key fear for the UK at the moment is that it is steadily becoming an authoritarian state in which our civil liberties are stripped from us, supposedly in order to defeat terrorism. However, despite the claims many of the new powers the government and local authorities have are simply to keep the ordinary UK population in line. I was interested to read that next Tuesday (6th May 2008) there is a programme showing on BBC4 in their 'True Stories' series called 'True Stories: Taking Liberties' and it looks at the reduction of civil liberties in the UK during Tony Blair's premiership. It is presented by a man called Chris Atkins. It is always heartening to learn that your analysis of developments is shared by others and obviously I recommend you watch it if you can.
One thing that irritated me in the preview of the programme in 'The Guardian' was that they feel that Atkins 'overstates' his case when relating the developments in the UK to those that led to Nazi Germany. Now, this is always something that annoys me. For some reason people seem to think that the Nazi state appeared fully formed when Hitler came to power on 30th January 1933 with death camps, the Waffen SS, the fully system in place. Of course that is nonsense. It always takes time to develop a dictatorship. In fact democracy had ended in Germany in 1930 when President Hindenburg began ruling through presidential decree. Elections continued but they had little bearing on who became Chancellor of Germany and Hitler was effectively invited to become Chancellor. So, an authoritarian system had been three years in the making when the Nazis came to power.
The Nazis moved fast with legislation especially after the Reichstag Fire at the end of February 1933. However, it was not until 1935 that the Nuremburg Laws were introduced making Jews no longer Germans. It was not until 1936 that the German police force was centralised and rearmament began in full. It was not until 1942 that death camps for the industrial killing of Jews, Roma, Soviets, homosexuals, et al were established. This was nine years after Hitler had come to power. This is not to say the Nazi regime was not horrific, it is to say that even with its rush to carry out its terrible acts it took time. It is essential that we remember the ultimate activities of the Nazis, but often this leads people to overlook each step which took the country closer and closer to the Holocaust. In 1970 Karl A. Schleunes wrote 'The Twisted Road to Auschwitz' which explained how erratic the individual Nazi steps were, even if they did have an overall goal of reaching the most extreme.
Now, what it is vital to note for people living in a democracy is to be able to recognise those early steps that allowed the more extreme ones of the 1940s. We need to be able to tell when laws are being introduced like those of 1930-35. These laws in themselves were unacceptable though there severity is now overshadowed with what came later. I am glad to say that I do not anticipate the UK ever carrying out a genocide, but what may happen is that we end up with a form of state like Germany 1930-2 or even slightly later on. Thus, it is wrong to say that Atkins is misguided when talking about the crumbling of British civil liberties to refer to Germany in the 1930s. Germany was an industrialised state in western Europe which had a democratic system, so similar to the UK. Every element of the destruction of civil liberties in Germany after 1930 is to be abhorred just as every reduction in UK civil liberties now needs to be noted and opposed.