Ideas and strategies for defining the unclear relationship between the Nazi-controlled state and the Nazi Party predated the elimination of Röhm. On December 1, 1933, Hitler and his cabinet had already passed the “Law to Ensure the Unity of Party and State,” the first paragraph of which read: “After the victory of the National Socialist revolution, the National Socialist German Labor Party is the bearer of the concept of the German State and is inseparable from the state.” After this law was passed, Hitler appointed a number of high-ranking party functionaries (such as Rudolf Hess) and SA officials to the government, reinforcing the general message that the party and its organizations stood at the heart of the new system. In the end, however, the law left considerable ambiguity about the actual functions of party officials and members. Moreover, it was formulated so vaguely that no binding regulation of the relationship between party and state could actually be inferred from it.
At a meeting of meeting of Gauleiters [supreme regional party leaders] on February 2, 1934, Hitler demanded that the party support the government “in every way.” Numerous well-connected party officials had already managed to step into government positions, but there were many more Nazis of old who were still dissatisfied with the extent of the revolution or their share of the spoils. Evoking the “Führer Principle,” Hitler stressed the need for unity within the party and expressed his belief that only a unified party could bring about a unified nation. His call for unity, however, was at least partially rooted in his concerns about the factionalism epitomized by the SA.
Throughout the Third Reich, fostering a sense of unity among citizens remained a central goal of the Nazi Party, which, at its peak, claimed about ten percent of Germans as members (6). After 1933, as unemployment declined and Germany’s military and diplomatic strength grew, both Hitler and the regime as a whole enjoyed broad support among the population. Years later, the strain of a prolonged, all-out war led to serious public morale problems. On September 29, 1943, Martin Bormann (1900-1945), the head of the Party Chancellery, issued a directive explaining how the party leadership proposed to use the organization to combat the negativism of a beleaguered public. By this time, however, the popular appeal of party membership had plummeted in direct proportion to Germany’s military setbacks. The party organization was itself a casualty of flagging morale.
(6) For a good analysis of Nazi party membership, see Michael H. Kater, The Nazi Party: A Social Profile of Members and Leaders, 1919-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).