Catholic and social democratic civil society organisations in debate about their repertoire

Current historiography still tends to conceive National Socialist and Communist movements as fundamentally differing from ‘normal’ democratic political parties in the 1920s and 1930s. It refers to these movements’ specific organisational structure, their political rhetoric, and their stylistically new appearance in the public sphere with mass meetings, demonstrations, and uniforms. However, these stylistic means do not appear to be denounced as ‘repulsive’, ‘objectionable’ or even ‘abnormal’ by contemporary observers. Apparently, the National Socialist and Communist parties did fit into a common political repertoire in the 1920s, and into the new political culture of mass parties evolving after the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918. Nearly all movements in the interwar period used party rallies, torch processions, uniforms, symbols, to be visible ‘in the street’.

The PhD project in hand compares Germany to the Netherlands and the different ‘political families’ to each other with respect to these aspects. It is assumed that the debates among German and Dutch Catholics and Social Democrats are correctly represented by a few civil society actors with decisive influence on their respective ‘Milieus’’ repertoires. The central issue is how contemporary actors evaluated, interpreted and developed their own repertoires and their appearance in the public space, in view of the Fascist challenge. Did Catholic, Social Democrat and Fascist repertoires resemble each other? Were the apparently successful National Socialist features incorporated and adapted to other repertoires, or were these forms dismissed fundamentally as National Socialist innovations? The extreme feature of political violence was debated elaborately.

Public space is defined here as the geographical and physical dimension of public sphere: literally, the street where rallies and marches took place. Public sphere is certainly not confined to this spatial component. In the interwar period, however, public space and its domination were incomparably more important in determining the public sphere’s contents. The Dutch-German comparison provides an additional research level. Debates in and among Dutch civil society organisations focused on the questions, whether German forms of repertoire were to be imported, and whether these would be rejected as “un-Dutch“.

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