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Beefsteak Nazi was a term used in Nazi Germany to describe Communists and Socialists who joined the Nazi Party. The Munich-born American historian Konrad Heiden was one of the first to document this phenomenon in his 1936 book Hitler: A Biography, remarking that within the Sturmabteilung (Brownshirts, SA) ranks there were "large numbers of Communists and Social Democrats" and that "many of the storm troops were called 'beefsteaks' – brown outside and red within". The switching of political parties was at times so common that SA men would jest that "[i]n our storm troop there are three Nazis, but we shall soon have spewed them out".
The term was particularly used for working class members of the SA who were aligned with Strasserism. The term derived from the idea that these individuals were like a "beefsteak"—brown on the outside and red on the inside, with "brown" referring to the colour of the uniforms and "red" to their communist and socialist sympathies. The implication of this was that their allegiance to Nazism was superficial and opportunistic.
The phenomenon became more pronounced by late 1932 when the Nazis had won 196 seats in the Reichstag compared with 100 seats for the Communists. Due to their poor electoral results, thousands of Communists "had subsequently gone over to NSDAP, becoming 'beefsteak Nazis'". After Adolf Hitler became Germany's Chancellor, beefsteak Nazis continued during the suppression of both the Communists and the Socialists (represented by the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party of Germany, respectively) in the 1930s and the term was popular as early as 1933.
Ernst Röhm and the Sturmabteilung
Ernst Röhm, a co-founder of the SA and later its commander, had developed within the SA ranks an "expanding Röhm-cult", where many in the SA sought a revolutionary socialist regime, radicalizing the SA. Röhm and large segments of the Nazi Party supported the 25-point National Socialist Program for its socialist, revolutionary and anti-capitalist positions, expecting Hitler to fulfill his promises when power was finally achieved. Since Röhm had "considerable sympathy with the more socialist aspects of the Nazi programme", "turncoat Communists and Socialists joined the Nazi Party for a number of years, where they were derisively known as 'Beefsteak Nazis'".
Röhm radicalization came to the forefront in 1933–1934 when he sought to have his plebeian SA troopers engage in permanent or "second revolution" after Hitler had become Germany's Chancellor. This second revolution would be "not against the Left, but against the Right", an idea that found favor with Joseph Goebbels—the Nazi Gauleiter (party leader) of Berlin and later Propaganda Minister—at least according to his diary. With 2.5 million Stormtroopers under his command by late 1933, Röhm envisaged a purging of the conservative faction, the "Reaktion" in Germany that would entail more nationalization of industry, "worker control of the means of production" and the "confiscation and redistribution of property and wealth of the upper classes". Such ideological and political infighting within the Nazi Party prompted Hitler to have the political rival Röhm and other Nazi socialist radicals executed during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
Some have argued that since most SA members came from working-class families or were unemployed, they were more amenable to Marxist-leaning socialism. However, historian Thomas Friedrich reports that the repeated efforts by the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) to appeal to the working-class backgrounds of the SA were "doomed to failure" because most SA men were focused on the cult of Hitler and destroying the "Marxist enemy".
As a former Marxist in his early years, Goebbels once stated "how thin the dividing line" was between communism and National Socialism, which had caused many Red Front Fighters to "switch to the SA". Goebbels expressed that sentiment in a 1925 public speech, declaring that "the difference between Communism and the Hitler faith is very slight".
In some cities, the numeral strength of party-switching beefsteak Nazis was estimated to be large. Rudolf Diels (the head of the Gestapo from 1933 to 1934) reported that "70 percent" of the new SA recruits had been Communists in the city of Berlin.
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