The echoes of our first great meeting, in the banquet hall of the Hofbräuhaus on February 24th, 1920, had not yet died away when we began preparations for our next meeting. Up to that time we had to consider carefully the venture of holding a small meeting every month or at most every fortnight in a city like Munich; but now it was decided that we should hold a mass meeting every week. I need not say that we anxiously asked ourselves on each occasion again and again: Will the people come and will they listen? Personally I was firmly convinced that if once they came they would remain and listen.
During that period the hall of the Hofbrau Haus in Munich acquired for us, National Socialists, a sort of mystic significance. Every week there was a meeting, almost always in that hall, and each time the hall was better filled than on the former occasion, and our public more attentive.
Starting with the theme, 'Responsibility for the War,' which nobody at that time cared about, and passing on to the discussion of the peace treaties, we dealt with almost everything that served to stimulate the minds of our audience and make them interested in our ideas. We drew attention to the peace treaties. What the new movement prophesied again and again before those great masses of people has been fulfilled almost in every detail. To-day it is easy to talk and write about these things. But in those days a public mass meeting which was attended not by the small bourgeoisie but by proletarians who had been aroused by agitators, to criticize the Peace Treaty of Versailles meant an attack on the Republic and an evidence of reaction, if not of monarchist tendencies. The moment one uttered the first criticism of the Versailles Treaty one could expect an immediate reply, which became almost stereotyped: 'And Brest-Litowsk?' 'Brest-Litowsk!' And then the crowd would murmur and the murmur would gradually swell into a roar, until the speaker would have to give up his attempt to persuade them. It would be like knocking one's head against a wall, so desperate were these people. They would not listen nor understand that Versailles was a scandal and a disgrace and that the dictate signified an act of highway robbery against our people. The disruptive work done by the Marxists and the poisonous propaganda of the external enemy had robbed these people of their reason. And one had no right to complain. For the guilt on this side was enormous. What had the German bourgeoisie done to call a halt to this terrible campaign of disintegration, to oppose it and open a way to a recognition of the truth by giving a better and more thorough explanation of the situation than that of the Marxists? Nothing, nothing. At that time I never saw those who are now the great apostles of the people. Perhaps they spoke to select groups, at tea parties of their own little coteries; but there where they should have been, where the wolves were at work, they never risked their appearance, unless it gave them the opportunity of yelling in concert with the wolves.
As for myself, I then saw clearly that for the small group which first composed our movement the question of war guilt had to be cleared up, and cleared up in the light of historical truth. A preliminary condition for the future success of our movement was that it should bring knowledge of the meaning of the peace treaties to the minds of the popular masses. In the opinion of the masses, the peace treaties then signified a democratic success. Therefore, it was necessary to take the opposite side and dig ourselves into the minds of the people as the enemies of the peace treaties; so that later on, when the naked truth of this despicable swindle would be disclosed in all its hideousness, the people would recall the position which we then took and would give us their confidence.
Already at that time I took up my stand on those important fundamental questions where public opinion had gone wrong as a whole. I opposed these wrong notions without regard either for popularity or for hatred, and I was ready to face the fight. The National Socialist German Labour Party ought not to be the beadle but rather the master of public opinion. It must not serve the masses but rather dominate them.
In the case of every movement, especially during its struggling stages, there is naturally a temptation to conform to the tactics of an opponent and use the same battle-cries, when his tactics have succeeded in leading the people to crazy conclusions or to adopt mistaken attitudes towards the questions at issue. This temptation is particularly strong when motives can be found, though they are entirely illusory, that seem to point towards the same ends which the young movement is aiming at. Human poltroonery will then all the more readily adopt those arguments which give it a semblance of justification, 'from its own point of view,' in participating in the criminal policy which the adversary is following.
On several occasions I have experienced such cases, in which the greatest energy had to be employed to prevent the ship of our movement from being drawn into a general current which had been started artificially, and indeed from sailing with it. The last occasion was when our German Press, the Hecuba of the existence of the German nation, succeeded in bringing the question of South Tyrol into a position of importance which was seriously damaging to the interests of the German people. Without considering what interests they were serving, several so-called 'national' men, parties and leagues, joined in the general cry, simply for fear of public opinion which had been excited by the Jews, and foolishly contributed to help in the struggle against a system which we Germans ought, particularly in those days, to consider as the one ray of light in this distracted world. While the international World-Jew is slowly but surely strangling us, our so-called patriots vociferate against a man and his system which have had the courage to liberate themselves from the shackles of Jewish Freemasonry at least in one quarter of the globe and to set the forces of national resistance against the international world-poison. But weak characters were tempted to set their sails according to the direction of the wind and capitulate before the shout of public opinion. For it was veritably a capitulation. They are so much in the habit of lying and so morally base that men may not admit this even to themselves, but the truth remains that only cowardice and fear of the public feeling aroused by the Jews induced certain people to join in the hue and cry. All the other reasons put forward were only miserable excuses of paltry culprits who were conscious of their own crime.
There it was necessary to grasp the rudder with an iron hand and turn the movement about, so as to save it from a course that would have led it on the rocks. Certainly to attempt such a change of course was not a popular manoeuvre at that time, because all the leading forces of public opinion had been active and a great flame of public feeling illuminated only one direction. Such a decision almost always brings disfavour on those who dare to take it. In the course of history not a few men have been stoned for an act for which posterity has afterwards thanked them on its knees.
But a movement must count on posterity and not on the plaudits of the movement. It may well be that at such moments certain individuals have to endure hours of anguish; but they should not forget that the moment of liberation will come and that a movement which purposes to reshape the world must serve the future and not the passing hour.
On this point it may be asserted that the greatest and most enduring successes in history are mostly those which were least understood at the beginning, because they were in strong contrast to public opinion and the views and wishes of the time.
We had experience of this when we made our own first public appearance. In all truth it can be said that we did not court public favour but made an onslaught on the follies of our people. In those days the following happened almost always: I presented myself before an assembly of men who believed the opposite of what I wished to say and who wanted the opposite of what I believed in. Then I had to spend a couple of hours in persuading two or three thousand people to give up the opinions they had first held, in destroying the foundations of their views with one blow after another and finally in leading them over to take their stand on the grounds of our own convictions and our philosophy of life.
I learned something that was important at that time, namely, to snatch from the hands of the enemy the weapons which he was using in his reply. I soon noticed that our adversaries, especially in the persons of those who led the discussion against us, were furnished with a definite repertoire of arguments out of which they took points against our claims which were being constantly repeated. The uniform character of this mode of procedure pointed to a systematic and unified training. And so we were able to recognize the incredible way in which the enemy's propagandists had been disciplined, and I am proud today that I discovered a means not only of making this propaganda ineffective but of beating the artificers of it at their own work. Two years later I was master of that art.
In every speech which I made it was important to get a clear idea beforehand of the probable form and matter of the counter-arguments we had to expect in the discussion, so that in the course of my own speech these could be dealt with and refuted. To this end it was necessary to mention all the possible objections and show their inconsistency; it was all the easier to win over an honest listener by expunging from his memory the arguments which had been impressed upon it, so that we anticipated our replies. What he had learned was refuted without having been mentioned by him and that made him all the more attentive to what I had to say.
That was the reason why, after my first lecture on the 'Peace Treaty of Versailles,' which I delivered to the troops while I was still a political instructor in my regiment, I made an alteration in the title and subject and henceforth spoke on 'The Treaties of Brest-Litowsk and Versailles.' For after the discussion which followed my first lecture I quickly ascertained that in reality people knew nothing about the Treaty of Brest-Litowsk and that able party propaganda had succeeded in presenting that Treaty as one of the most scandalous acts of violence in the history of the world.
As a result of the persistency with which this falsehood was repeated again and again before the masses of the people, millions of Germans saw in the Treaty of Versailles a just castigation for the crime we had committed at Brest-Litowsk. Thus they considered all opposition to Versailles as unjust and in many cases there was an honest moral dislike to such a proceeding. And this was also the reason why the shameless and monstrous word 'Reparations' came into common use in Germany. This hypocritical falsehood appeared to millions of our exasperated fellow countrymen as the fulfilment of a higher justice. It is a terrible thought, but the fact was so. The best proof of this was the propaganda which I initiated against Versailles by explaining the Treaty of Brest-Litowsk. I compared the two treaties with one another, point by point, and showed how in truth the one treaty was immensely humane, in contradistinction to the inhuman barbarity of the other. The effect was very striking. Then I spoke on this theme before an assembly of two thousand persons, during which I often saw three thousand six hundred hostile eyes fixed on me. And three hours later I had in front of me a swaying mass of righteous indignation and fury. A great lie had been uprooted from the hearts and brains of a crowd composed of thousands of individuals and a truth had been implanted in its place.
The two lectures that 'On the Causes of the World War' and 'On the Peace Treaties of Brest-Litowsk and Versailles' respectively I then considered as the most important of all. Therefore I repeated them dozens of times, always giving them a new intonation; until at least on those points a definitely clear and unanimous opinion reigned among those from whom our movement recruited its first members.
Furthermore, these gatherings brought me the advantage that I slowly became a platform orator at mass meetings, and gave me practice in the pathos and gesture required in large halls that held thousands of people.
Outside of the small circles which I have mentioned, at that time I found no party engaged in explaining things to the people in this way. Not one of these parties was then active which talk today as if it was they who had brought about the change in public opinion. If a political leader, calling himself a nationalist, pronounced a discourse somewhere or other on this theme it was only before circles which for the most part were already of his own conviction and among whom the most that was done was to confirm them in their opinions. But that was not what was needed then. What was needed was to win over through propaganda and explanation those whose opinions and mental attitudes held them bound to the enemy's camp.
The one-page circular was also adopted by us to help in this propaganda. While still a soldier I had written a circular in which I contrasted the Treaty of Brest-Litowsk with that of Versailles. That circular was printed and distributed in large numbers. Later on I used it for the party, and also with good success. Our first meetings were distinguished by the fact that there were tables covered with leaflets, papers, and pamphlets of every kind. But we relied principally on the spoken word. And, in fact, this is the only means capable of producing really great revolutions, which can be explained on general psychological grounds.
In the first volume I have already stated that all the formidable events which have changed the aspect of the world were carried through, not by the written but by the spoken word. On that point there was a long discussion in a certain section of the Press during the course of which our shrewd bourgeois people strongly opposed my thesis. But the reason for this attitude confounded the sceptics. The bourgeois intellectuals protested against my attitude simply because they themselves did not have the force or ability to influence the masses through the spoken word; for they always relied exclusively on the help of writers and did not enter the arena themselves as orators for the purpose of arousing the people. The development of events necessarily led to that condition of affairs which is characteristic of the bourgeoisie today, namely, the loss of the psychological instinct to act upon and influence the masses.
An orator receives continuous guidance from the people before whom he speaks. This helps him to correct the direction of his speech; for he can always gauge, by the faces of his hearers, how far they follow and understand him, and whether his words are producing the desired effect. But the writer does not know his reader at all. Therefore, from the outset he does not address himself to a definite human group of persons which he has before his eyes but must write in a general way. Hence, up to a certain extent he must fail in psychological finesse and flexibility. Therefore, in general it may be said that a brilliant orator writes better than a brilliant writer can speak, unless the latter has continual practice in public speaking. One must also remember that of itself the multitude is mentally inert, that it remains attached to its old habits and that it is not naturally prone to read something which does not conform with its own pre-established beliefs when such writing does not contain what the multitude hopes to find there. Therefore, some piece of writing which has a particular tendency is for the most part read only by those who are in sympathy with it. Only a leaflet or a placard, on account of its brevity, can hope to arouse a momentary interest in those whose opinions differ from it. The picture, in all its forms, including the film, has better prospects. Here there is less need of elaborating the appeal to the intelligence. It is sufficient if one be careful to have quite short texts, because many people are more ready to accept a pictorial presentation than to read a long written description. In a much shorter time, at one stroke I might say, people will understand a pictorial presentation of something which it would take them a long and laborious effort of reading to understand.
The most important consideration, however, is that one never knows into what hands a piece of written material comes and yet the form in which its subject is presented must remain the same. In general the effect is greater when the form of treatment corresponds to the mental level of the reader and suits his nature. Therefore, a book which is meant for the broad masses of the people must try from the very start to gain its effects through a style and level of ideas which would be quite different from a book intended to be read by the higher intellectual classes.
Only through his capacity for adaptability does the force of the written word approach that of oral speech. The orator may deal with the same subject as a book deals with; but if he has the genius of a great and popular orator he will scarcely ever repeat the same argument or the same material in the same form on two consecutive occasions. He will always follow the lead of the great mass in such a way that from the living emotion of his hearers the apt word which he needs will be suggested to him and in its turn this will go straight to the hearts of his hearers. Should he make even a slight mistake he has the living correction before him. As I have already said, he can read the play of expression on the faces of his hearers, first to see if they understand what he says, secondly to see if they take in the whole of his argument, and, thirdly, in how far they are convinced of the justice of what has been placed before them. Should he observe, first, that his hearers do not understand him he will make his explanation so elementary and clear that they will be able to grasp it, even to the last individual. Secondly, if he feels that they are not capable of following him he will make one idea follow another carefully and slowly until the most slow-witted hearer no longer lags behind. Thirdly, as soon as he has the feeling that they do not seem convinced that he is right in the way he has put things to them he will repeat his argument over and over again, always giving fresh illustrations, and he himself will state their unspoken objection. He will repeat these objections, dissecting them and refuting them, until the last group of the opposition show him by their behaviour and play of expression that they have capitulated before his exposition of the case.
Not infrequently it is a case of overcoming ingrained prejudices which are mostly unconscious and are supported by sentiment rather than reason. It is a thousand times more difficult to overcome this barrier of instinctive aversion, emotional hatred and preventive dissent than to correct opinions which are founded on defective or erroneous knowledge. False ideas and ignorance may be set aside by means of instruction, but emotional resistance never can. Nothing but an appeal to these hidden forces will be effective here. And that appeal can be made by scarcely any writer. Only the orator can hope to make it.
A very striking proof of this is found in the fact that, though we had a bourgeois Press which in many cases was well written and produced and had a circulation of millions among the people, it could not prevent the broad masses from becoming the implacable enemies of the bourgeois class. The deluge of papers and books published by the intellectual circles year after year passed over the millions of the lower social strata like water over glazed leather. This proves that one of two things must be true: either that the matter offered in the bourgeois Press was worthless or that it is impossible to reach the hearts of the broad masses by means of the written word alone. Of course, the latter would be specially true where the written material shows such little psychological insight as has hitherto been the case.
It is useless to object here, as certain big Berlin papers of German-National tendencies have attempted to do, that this statement is refuted by the fact that the Marxists have exercised their greatest influence through their writings, and especially through their principal book, published by Karl Marx. Seldom has a more superficial argument been based on a false assumption. What gave Marxism its amazing influence over the broad masses was not that formal printed work which sets forth the Jewish system of ideas, but the tremendous oral propaganda carried on for years among the masses. Out of one hundred thousand German workers scarcely one hundred know of Marx's book. It has been studied much more in intellectual circles and especially by the Jews than by the genuine followers of the movement who come from the lower classes. That work was not written for the masses, but exclusively for the intellectual leaders of the Jewish machine for conquering the world. The engine was heated with quite different stuff: namely, the journalistic Press. What differentiates the bourgeois Press from the Marxist Press is that the latter is written by agitators, whereas the bourgeois Press would like to carry on agitation by means of professional writers. The Social-Democrat sub-editor, who almost always came directly from the meeting to the editorial offices of his paper, felt his job on his finger-tips. But the bourgeois writer who left his desk to appear before the masses already felt ill when he smelled the very odour of the crowd and found that what he had written was useless to him.
What won over millions of workpeople to the Marxist cause was not the ex cathedra style of the Marxist writers but the formidable propagandist work done by tens of thousands of indefatigable agitators, commencing with the leading fiery agitator down to the smallest official in the syndicate, the trusted delegate and the platform orator. Furthermore, there were the hundreds of thousands of meetings where these orators, standing on tables in smoky taverns, hammered their ideas into the heads of the masses, thus acquiring an admirable psychological knowledge of the human material they had to deal with. And in this way they were enabled to select the best weapons for their assault on the citadel of public opinion. In addition to all this there were the gigantic mass-demonstrations with processions in which a hundred thousand men took part. All this was calculated to impress on the petty-hearted individual the proud conviction that, though a small worm, he was at the same time a cell of the great dragon before whose devastating breath the hated bourgeois world would one day be consumed in fire and flame, and the dictatorship of the proletariat would celebrate its conclusive victory.
This kind of propaganda influenced men in such a way as to give them a taste for reading the Social Democratic Press and prepare their minds for its teaching. That Press, in its turn, was a vehicle of the spoken word rather than of the written word. Whereas in the bourgeois camp professors and learned writers, theorists and authors of all kinds, made attempts at talking, in the Marxist camp real speakers often made attempts at writing. And it was precisely the Jew who was most prominent here. In general and because of his shrewd dialectical skill and his knack of twisting the truth to suit his own purposes, he was an effective writer but in reality his métier was that of a revolutionary orator rather than a writer.
For this reason the journalistic bourgeois world, setting aside the fact that here also the Jew held the whip hand and that therefore this press did not really interest itself in the instructtion of the broad masses, was not able to exercise even the least influence over the opinions held by the great masses of our people.
It is difficult to remove emotional prejudices, psychological bias, feelings, etc., and to put others in their place. Success depends here on imponderable conditions and influences. Only the orator who is gifted with the most sensitive insight can estimate all this. Even the time of day at which the speech is delivered has a decisive influence on its results. The same speech, made by the same orator and on the same theme, will have very different results according as it is delivered at ten o'clock in the forenoon, at three in the afternoon, or in the evening. When I first engaged in public speaking I arranged for meetings to take place in the forenoon and I remember particularly a demonstration that we held in the Munich Kindl Keller 'Against the Oppression of German Districts.' That was the biggest hall then in Munich and the audacity of our undertaking was great. In order to make the hour of the meeting attractive for all the members of our movement and the other people who might come, I fixed it for ten o'clock on a Sunday morning. The result was depressing. But it was very instructive. The hall was filled. The impression was profound, but the general feeling was cold as ice. Nobody got warmed up, and I myself, as the speaker of the occasion, felt profoundly unhappy at the thought that I could not establish the slightest contact with my audience. I do not think I spoke worse than before, but the effect seemed absolutely negative. I left the hall very discontented, but also feeling that I had gained a new experience. Later on I tried the same kind of experiment, but always with the same results.
That was nothing to be wondered at. If one goes to a theatre to see a matinée performance and then attends an evening performance of the same play one is astounded at the difference in the impressions created. A sensitive person recognizes for himself the fact that these two states of mind caused by the matinee and the evening performance respectively are quite different in themselves. The same is true of cinema productions. This latter point is important; for one may say of the theatre that perhaps in the afternoon the actor does not make the same effort as in the evening. But surely it cannot be said that the cinema is different in the afternoon from what it is at nine o'clock in the evening. No, here the time exercises a distinct influence, just as a room exercises a distinct influence on a person. There are rooms which leave one cold, for reasons which are difficult to explain. There are rooms which refuse steadfastly to allow any favourable atmosphere to be created in them. Moreover, certain memories and traditions which are present as pictures in the human mind may have a determining influence on the impression produced. Thus, a representation of Parsifal at Bayreuth will have an effect quite different from that which the same opera produces in any other part of the world. The mysterious charm of the House on the 'Festival Heights' in the old city of The Margrave cannot be equalled or substituted anywhere else.
In all these cases one deals with the problem of influencing the freedom of the human will. And that is true especially of meetings where there are men whose wills are opposed to the speaker and who must be brought around to a new way of thinking. In the morning and during the day it seems that the power of the human will rebels with its strongest energy against any attempt to impose upon it the will or opinion of another. On the other hand, in the evening it easily succumbs to the domination of a stronger will. Because really in such assemblies there is a contest between two opposite forces. The superior oratorical art of a man who has the compelling character of an apostle will succeed better in bringing around to a new way of thinking those who have naturally been subjected to a weakening of their forces of resistance rather than in converting those who are in full possession of their volitional and intellectual energies.
The mysterious artificial dimness of the Catholic churches also serves this purpose, the burning candles, the incense, the thurible, etc.
In this struggle between the orator and the opponent whom he must convert to his cause this marvellous sensibility towards the psychological influences of propaganda can hardly ever be availed of by an author. Generally speaking, the effect of the writer's work helps rather to conserve, reinforce and deepen the foundations of a mentality already existing. All really great historical revolutions were not produced by the written word. At most, they were accompanied by it.
It is out of the question to think that the French Revolution could have been carried into effect by philosophizing theories if they had not found an army of agitators led by demagogues of the grand style. These demagogues inflamed popular passion that had been already aroused, until that volcanic eruption finally broke out and convulsed the whole of Europe. And the same happened in the case of the gigantic Bolshevik revolution which recently took place in Russia. It was not due to the writers on Lenin's side but to the oratorical activities of those who preached the doctrine of hatred and that of the innumerable small and great orators who took part in the agitation.
The masses of illiterate Russians were not fired to Communist revolutionary enthusiasm by reading the theories of Karl Marx but by the promises of paradise made to the people by thousands of agitators in the service of an idea.
It was always so, and it will always be so.
It is just typical of our pig-headed intellectuals, who live apart from the practical world, to think that a writer must of necessity be superior to an orator in intelligence. This point of view was once exquisitely illustrated by a critique, published in a certain National paper which I have already mentioned, where it was stated that one is often disillusioned by reading the speech of an acknowledged great orator in print. That reminded me of another article which came into my hands during the War. It dealt with the speeches of Lloyd George, who was then Minister of Munitions, and examined them in a painstaking way under the microscope of criticism. The writer made the brilliant statement that these speeches showed inferior intelligence and learning and that, moreover, they were banal and commonplace productions. I myself procured some of these speeches, published in pamphlet form, and had to laugh at the fact that a normal German quill-driver did not in the least understand these psychological masterpieces in the art of influencing the masses. This man criticized these speeches exclusively according to the impression they made on his own blasé mind, whereas the great British Demagogue had produced an immense effect on his audience through them, and in the widest sense on the whole of the British populace. Looked at from this point of view, that Englishman's speeches were most wonderful achievements, precisely because they showed an astounding knowledge of the soul of the broad masses of the people. For that reason their effect was really penetrating. Compare with them the futile stammerings of a Bethmann-Hollweg. On the surface his speeches were undoubtedly more intellectual, but they just proved this man's inability to speak to the people, which he really could not do. Nevertheless, to the average stupid brain of the German writer, who is, of course, endowed with a lot of scientific learning, it came quite natural to judge the speeches of the English Minister which were made for the purpose of influencing the masses by the impression which they made on his own mind, fossilized in its abstract learning. And it was more natural for him to compare them in the light of that impression with the brilliant but futile talk of the German statesman, which of course appealed to the writer's mind much more favourably. That the genius of Lloyd George was not only equal but a thousandfold superior to that of a Bethmann-Hollweg is proved by the fact that he found for his speeches that form and expression which opened the hearts of his people to him and made these people carry out his will absolutely. The primitive quality itself of those speeches, the originality of his expressions, his choice of clear and simple illustration, are examples which prove the superior political capacity of this Englishman. For one must never judge the speech of a statesman to his people by the impression which it leaves on the mind of a university professor but by the effect it produces on the people. And this is the sole criterion of the orator's genius.