Work and Bread!

Presented by Gregor Strasser as a speech to the German Reichstag, May 10, 1932.

Gregor Strasser, who joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) sometime between 1921 and 1922, was one of the most significant, talented members of the Party. Considered second only to Hitler, he had a string of accomplishments to his name: he became SA Leader for Lower Bavaria in March 1923; Gauleiter of Lower Bavaria in March 1925; Reichspropagandaleitung [national Propaganda Leader] in September 1926; and Reichsorganisationsleiter [national Organisation Leader] in January 1928. Strasser additionally became a member of the Bavarian Landtag in April 1924, and was elected to the Reichstag as representative for Westphalia North in December 1924 (a seat he held until stepping down in March 1933).  Strasser was in addition one of the NSDAP’s most important spokesmen on economic issues, working closely with Dr. Otto Wagener, chairman of the NSDAP’s Economic Policy Department, and with Walther Funk, member of the Party’s Reich Economic Council. It was in this context that the following speech was made on May 10, 1932. Although never officially endorsed by Hitler, it was republished and distributed by the Party in article and pamphlet form and became the basis for the ‘Emergency Economic Programme’ propagated by the NSDAP as its statement of economic principles prior to the Reichstag elections of July 1932. The ‘Work and Bread!’ speech is regarded as perhaps Strasser’s most important – in it he clearly sets forth a vision of National Socialist anticapitalism, advocating autarchy, a full-employment program, and heavy government intervention in the economy. The speech received some acclamation at the time, generating interest from trade union leaders and being publicly praised by Chancellor Brüning. 

Emergency Decrees are the Only Recourse of the Present System!

The last time I spoke here in October 1930 I settled our accounts with the System, and on the basis of our electoral victory of September 1930 I announced the basic domestic and foreign policy principles of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Since that time nothing has changed, nothing at all. The only new thing we have experienced since that time is the weapon of emergency decrees, which on the one hand reveal emergency and on the other hand decree emergency. But otherwise no new and above all no redeeming idea has emerged from the whole political development since that time. I see the reason for this in the fact that Germany’s ruling men have limited themselves to concentrating their entire political effort on the suppression and the exclusion from power of the national and social forces present in National Socialism; also in the fact that the government, like the debates in the German Reichstag on the few days in which it met, has always recognised but a single theme: the fight against us, and no longer a fight for the interests of the German people.

The entire energy of the government during the last election campaign, the whole manner of its propaganda with all its resources for influencing the people, was devoted to slandering us before the whole people and before the world. No mention was made of what the government had achieved itself in the interim.

The Reich Chancellor’s recent statement that a National Socialist takeover of the government would automatically entail chaos, inflation, and civil war is from the political standpoint the more dangerous because here in the Reichstag there is surely no one who doubts that the solution to the great German problems can never be attempted or found against our opposition or without our help.

The Rise of National Socialism

Despite the unprecedented resistance of all the people involved in the Brüning system and of all the men in government, the elections of recent times have brought about the incessant and irresistible rise of the movement. I think it is time for German officialdom to take off its party-shaded glasses and take a close look at where this rise comes from.

When people today say stubbornly that the rise of the National Socialists is merely the result of widespread dissatisfaction among the German people, then I must ask, where do all these dissatisfied people come from, why are they dissatisfied? It must be the fault and the failure of the governing parties and of the government supported by them.

But that is not a sufficient explanation. It is not even sufficient for me to say that the great reason for the rise of our movement is the newly awakened national feeling which, having been senselessly and extravagantly throttled for years, is naturally developing the more strongly now. Here much more is involved.

The rise of the National Socialist movement is the protest of a people against a state which denies to folk comrades the right to work and the restoration of their natural subsistence. It is the protest against a state which allows and makes possible an economic system which falsifies natural productivity, burns wheat, throws coffee into the sea, senselessly hoards staples, and all this only for the purpose of driving up prices and the profits of the stock market.

Gentlemen Communists, I have always liked polemics, and no one can say that I would avoid caustic political argument; yet now that I am going to talk about the problems of the German emergency, and especially about creating employment, I have the right to demand your respect.

We must firmly assert and firmly remember (the ability to do this is established in the innermost core and thinking of the German people) that the good Lord lets enough grow throughout the world to provide for the needs of all mankind. If today’s world economy cannot distribute nature’s wealth justly, then this system is wrong and must be changed if the people is to live.

The German people protests against an economic order which thinks only in terms of money, profit, and dividends, and which has forgotten to think of work and achievement.

The great anticapitalist yearning (as I call it) which has gripped our people, which has already persuaded perhaps ninety-five percent of them, consciously or unconsciously, is interesting and valuable. It is not in the least a rejection of that property which is morally justified, which has been acquired by labour and thrift. It has above all absolutely nothing to do with the senseless, unproductive, and destructive tendencies of the Comintern. It is rather the protest of the working people against a degenerate system of economic thought. It demands of the state that, in order to secure its own existence, it sever relations with the demons of gold, world economy, materialism; with the practice of thinking exclusively in terms of export statistics and Reichsbank discount; and that it find a way to ensure an honourable return for honest work.

This great anticapitalist yearning proves that we are confronting a great, a magnificent turning point: the conquest of liberalism and the rise of a new kind of economic thought and a new attitude toward the state.

The National Socialist Full-Employment Program

I have stated that unemployment and the provision of employment are the most urgent problems, and I want to take the opportunity here and now to bring to the attention of the German people the plans and ideas about these problems which we National Socialists have developed in the past months. We have said for years that the following problems are at issue in Germany: the improvement of the economic situation of the farmers – I say explicitly the farmers; the necessity of internal resettlement; the reduction of migration to the city; the recovery of trade and the monetary system; the increase of internal production, which goes hand in hand with support for a closed economy; assurance of an adequate food supply; the organisation of national labour; the establishment of an internal market with the cooperation of industry; the revision of our land law; and, perhaps most importantly, the proclamation of what I call the duty to work and the duty to provide food, that is, the obligation of the German folk comrade to devote all of his labour to the nation in the production of necessities. We demand the rating and valuation of the individual according to the extent of his mobilised achievement. Whether he works as a privy councillor or as an unskilled labourer is of no consequence.

When we return to the provision of employment, to the actual full-employment program, to the proposals of the greatest German party, we must be very clear in our minds about something which is in contrast to present thinking: There are in the world two eternal values from which stems everything we need, everything we have, and everything we can create – these are natural resources and labour. In other words, all statements like “Capital creates labour” are false.

Labour creates capital!

Two things are necessary before one can approach the provision of employment adequately, clarifying the whole situation of the people. First, Article 163 of the Weimar Constitution must be changed. I think it shows the conscious cowardice of the constituent assembly that in Article 163 they only adopted the phrase that every German should have the right to work. This usage already expressed the inability and unwillingness of these people to direct the state and the economy according to organic principles and to give work to everyone who honestly wants to work. Article 163 will have to be changed, in awareness of the full consequences of this change, to say that every German must have the right to work. [italics added]

Article 163 of the constitution, which regulates the right to work, must be completed by the second demand which I formulated earlier as the obligation to work, the utilisation of labour for the general public. From labour come life’s necessities: food, housing, clothing, light and warmth. Labour, not capital, is the wealth of a people; everything stems from labour. Therefore, when confronting the problem of the provision of employment, the state must never ask, “Is there money for it?” There is only a single question to be asked: “How should the money be used?” There is always money to provide employment, and the last resort is simply to expand credit, which is absolutely justified and productive in terms of the economy. That is at least as right and justified as your silver inflation, and at least as feasible and at least as safe as your frozen Russian credits, and safer than the money you have used for the stabilisation of the German banks. In the provision of employment the question can only be: where do we start? The point of departure has to be found. On this the following should be said. In satisfying the most important of human needs, the need for food, Germany is still dependent on foreign countries. But in the last analysis a people which is dependent on foreign countries is never in the position to settle its international problems, the problems of freedom, according to its own liking. In other words: We must make possible the production on German soil of at least a subsistence for the whole people. We should have done this already, before the present level of unemployment was reached; we should have done it in response to the Treaty of Versailles, which constricted our living space and thus automatically necessitated a reorganisation of agricultural production.

Furthermore we need in Germany a large-scale housing and population policy, that is, the evacuation of the big cities. The cities are already shrinking, which shows that the inherent power of the people, its unconscious sentiment, is beginning to go the natural, right, organic way. I don’t need to explore this question and its ramifications any further. In the last analysis the housing problem is the greatest social problem. It is not possible in the long run for a person who has to live in a horrible, cold, dark hole of a big city apartment to have any sense of the political needs of his people, of the beauty of nature, or of the valuable and even inexpensive ways in which he could improve his lot in life. We must provide for this desire by building, to the largest possible extent, housing developments consisting of private dwellings.

The direction in which free labour in Germany must move is thus plainly shown; it is prescribed for us by our own economy, by the needs of our people: increased production of foodstuffs and the achievement of a sound housing and construction policy, from which we proceed to an extraordinary stimulation of the labour market as such by payment of wages, thereby increasing purchasing power and also by providing materials, which in the last analysis always form a high percentage of wages. In the building of a development of private homes, if one assessed each at 5,000 marks, sixty-five percent, including everything, is wages. But wages provide the possibility of reemploying the unemployed. Unemployment insurance then ceases. Social security costs and all these things can then be paid for again by the employed worker himself. An enormous burden on the treasury will be lifted. But to do this we must reject in principle one rule which appears often in the dealings of the Economic Council [Reichswirtschaftsrat]: I mean the slogan of misdirected capital. There are still people, utterly infected with liberal thinking, who take the standpoint: If I create more employment by means of expanded credit or by expanding the supply of money in one sector of the German economy, then this money will be lacking in another sector. For today’s modern man this view is almost inconceivable, for labour creates new labour in an externally continuous, consistent progression. Any employed person involves at least one further person – an economic principle which is generally acknowledged today! Therefore there can be no misdirected capital! I shall tell you how we think financing can be achieved. For it we need the savings from unemployment relief, the additional tax revenues which will result from putting the economy back to work, some payment by the beneficiary himself, and the rest we will obtain by a productive creation of capital.

There is enough land in Germany. The 8 ½ million acres to be drained, the 2 million acres of moorland, and 1 million which was once cultivated but now lies fallow – all this would make it possible, in round numbers (I am willing at any time to provide exact data, but this is not possible in such a short speech), to employ 1 million workers for 5 years at normal wages, if a compulsory labour service is implemented. I am really surprised when people my age who for 4 years worked in danger of their lives to defend the German frontier resist the idea of twenty to twenty-one-year-old Germans working for their people for a single year.

The gentlemen on the left object to a compulsory labour service not because as Communists they oppose force as such, but because they know all too well that the value of the labour service lies not only in its material successes, but above all in that it can solve the problem of education toward a German idea of state.

That education toward a German state will destroy your world view [to the Communists]: this is clear and is the precondition of our proposal.

Among the ways to improve the soil is also a new method of fertilising. It is unthinkable that because the farmer lacks purchasing power, fertiliser stays in the factory, does not benefit the soil, even though if we had the right price policy fertilising would be automatically profitable and therefore gladly employed by the German farmer at any time. I have said before and say once again: the projects to be carried out within the system of free enterprise shall be carried out at standard wages. I shall return in conclusion to questions of financing.

Soil improvement on small- and medium-size properties should in our opinion be carried out by soil improvement cooperatives under state supervision. Problematical projects and those in which profits must be deferred [should be carried out] by means of the labour service obligation.

The need for equipment, shelter, and clothing which will be created by these projects will employ further segments of the labour force in crafts, industry, commerce, and transportation. I am firmly convinced that it is basically just a question of starting the motor. Work creates more work. We really don’t need to have a great deal of state intervention in these things. But the first great commissions which provide employment do have to come from the state, because no private entrepreneur today is in the position to tackle such a problem. Once the great commissions have been cranked up to go, then I am convinced that within two years we will automatically have a normal course of events again. That is the eternal benefit of labour, which is the basis of life and always has been.

The soil improvement projects and those for the cultivation of now fallow land will, if one tackles the problem directly and uses all technical possibilities, create resettlement opportunities for 100,000 people annually. I am distinguishing here between housing developments near the cities for city dwellers, and settlements on the land, a problem which has in part been tackled by settlement in the east. If we resettle 100,000 people yearly (I have to admit that this figure is a little high, but it can be achieved), after five years we will have half a million new settlers in the east, and thereby enormous geographical and military possibilities which would lead us too far afield to discuss today. Furthermore, the establishment of these settlements will in turn continually provide employment.

I turn now to a matter with which the gentlemen on the left have often reproached me. They reproach me with the fact that in the proclamation of the right to work and the obligation to work, which we see as essential if we are to approach these problems with any hope of success, there is a limitation of personal freedom. In the last analysis, we already have paragraphs in the Weimar Constitution saying that in times of emergency, the citizen can be obliged to make certain special efforts. If you think you can solve the problem without force, if you want to starve in freedom, go ahead; for famine itself will be inevitable if the present system and present economic thought continue. But the catcallers are right about one thing, even though they don’t say it in this spirit: A state which goes so far as to give its people the right to work, but which, in fulfilling this right, decrees the obligation to work for the sake of both the individual and the nation; such a state must of course take the most extensive precautions so that the goods produced by participants in the new labour service do not as before fall into the hands of private speculators on their way to the consumer. That is clear, of course. In other words, when it introduces these measures the German state will have to establish comprehensive control of the market in foodstuffs, in order to head off the justified complaints of those who are conscripted into the labour service.

If today’s destructive tendencies continue, I do not think that such controls can be effective without a monopoly on grain. For among agricultural circles I have repeatedly heard the following: the reserve of foodstuffs is already too small during the last months of the harvest year, because the agricultural emergency is making the area of cultivation smaller and smaller.

I am also convinced that control of the market in foodstuffs, if necessary beyond grain (the entire question needs to be investigated), offers the only possibility of solving the problem of wages in Germany. During the last few weeks I have been in the Bavarian State Library, rummaging around in old newspapers from the middle of the last century; I read the speeches of men like the statesmen von Hasenbrädl and others who, when the Bavarian police taxes (which at that time acted as controls on foodstuffs) were lifted, automatically predicted inflation and a destruction of the economy amounting to billions. I might say that these studies taught me to evaluate rightly the often ridiculed “Bavarian beer war.” In Bavaria a measure of beer represented a very specific amount of labour and later a very specific amount of property. And a rise in price by a penny meant a rise in price for all goods in general, which in the further course of events grew to millions. I see the enormous difficulties of present wage negotiations as a result of the fact that the state today cannot approach the wage problem from such a standard, from such a “touchstone.” The necessity of removing foodstuffs from speculation by an increase in our own production as a result of reorganisation must and will provide the occasion for us to solve these questions, too: control of the foodstuffs market and beyond that of the wage problem in general.

It is clear that agriculture must show a profit, if we are to make a start in soil improvement. But just as indispensable is the requirement that imports must first be curbed, before soil improvement can help the German farmer to produce more.

Curbing imports or fixing quotas – we have made such proposals and given you the opportunity to express your opinion on them – these are necessary in order to be able to appeal successfully to the initiative of the farmer and in order to make agriculture profitable. Making agriculture profitable is achieved in our opinion by price supports – here again I am putting forward for debate the question of full monopoly – and above all by lowering the rate of interest, especially for first loans where it will really be effective.

We are further convinced that it will also be necessary to put the whole system of agricultural credit on a new basis; beyond that, and I say this as a politician, not an expert, I see no necessity for creating an extensive organisation for the German peasantry. At that moment when the state takes over as guarantor of the viability of German agriculture – and any future state will have to do that, any state which does not want to fall apart – at that moment a large part of today’s opposition organisations, which arose justifiably, will simply lose all their appeal and justification. Here too simplification ought to offer far-reaching possibilities.

How Shall the National Socialist Full-Employment Program Be Financed?

I now turn to the financing of labour. When the National Socialist side demands the execution of great works as a cure for unemployment, the representatives of the present political system always raise the same objection: we lack the means. We are too poor to be able to work more. That is wholly false. If one is poor one must work more in order to become prosperous again. The poorer a people is, the more it must work, for increased prosperity can only come from the two external sources: labour and natural resources.

The financing of a program to provide employment on a large scale is wholly possible. I give as examples soil improvement and the construction of housing developments of private homes, both of which provide extensive opportunity for employment. It is necessary to have the financing carried out by a bank especially set up for the purpose, such as a [state] building and loan association. In the past you have either laughed or protested at the phrase “building and loan association.” Today you are not protesting any more, because your “acceptance and guarantee” bank, forced upon you by the emergency, has become something very similar.

The workers who are put to work by the full-employment program shall receive full wages except for those working in the labour service. I must now be brief because time is passing: if in soil improvement projects, settlements of private homes, and similar works, one transforms the expenditures for materials as much as possible into wages, by including the provision of materials very extensively within the employment program, then the costs will on the average be distributed in the following way. The Reich office for unemployment insurance puts at the disposal of the employees of the new bank – the building and loan association – the sums which up until now have been paid as unemployment compensation. Thus the bank receives 30 percent of the entire amount needed for wages. You have to pay the compensation today, too, and in starting the work you have the assurance that you can halt unemployment. Secondly, you have, and I am not taking it into account here, the people who are put to work by the effects of the newly created labour process; the second man, if I may put it that way, withdraws in any case from unemployment compensation and can be included here wholly or partially. Then the new unemployment payments which you don’t need any more! If one million are working, the 6.5 percent which make up the unemployment payments for social security disappear. These payments are saved. That represents 5 percent of the money necessary for financing.

Then when there is work, there is immediately something to tax. One can demonstrate this: it can be shown with precision that as the total income of the labour force rises and falls, tax revenues rise and fall in parallel percentage. Thus there exists here a close relationship which cannot be denied.

If I say that the returns from the taxes coming from those people – members of the middle class, master craftsmen, and so forth – who are put to work by the widest possible expansion of employment, if I say that these returns constitute only 15 percent (although we actually calculated these returns and percentages at a higher level – 22 percent, 23 percent, etc.) then we have another 15 percent for financing. To that must be added what can be contributed by the settler or by the farmer who has improved his soil. We reckon on only 25 percent. Thus in the case of a settlement of private homes, 25 percent; in the case of soil improvement the farmer’s contribution will be higher. Either one can resettle some people who still have small savings which they can use for these purposes, or one can give other settlers the opportunity to save through withholding from their wages enough to purchase a 25 percent share in his settlement, making him one of the original quarter-owners of the new creation.

The remaining 25 percent will be covered by the building and loan association, which will issue credits. That part of the tax revenue which is not available at the beginning will also be covered by the issuance of credits. Here we are considering the problem – which I do not need to explain in more detail – of the productive creation of credit; you are doing it now, too, but with far less justification than under our proposal, which would create new values and new work. This kind of productive creation of credit is unobjectionable as long as a strong and honest state is in the position to stop at the right moment and prevent undesirable developments.

We will have to realise that in all these new employment plans one conception must be completely discarded: the capitalist calculation of profit. We must not ask how much of this labour will produce interest to fatten the coffers of the money-lender so that he need not work. Rather we should consider what I like to call the National Socialist calculation of profit, in which one looks at the financing of such works from the point of view of the welfare of the entire nation; in which one asks what will be achieved for the economic, cultural, and other needs of the whole people.

But the most important thing is the lowering of interest. There will be no improvement in Germany, and all those possibilities which I enumerated will remain meaningless, if you do not get rid of interest, reduce it from its present level to a bearable one, above all by getting rid of the treacherous manoeuvres of the banks. They talk of 5 percent interest, but looking more closely one finds a 2 percent additional charge, another 2 percent for credit provision, and then when credit is provided, only half is given, then one more percent is added for provision against a credit overdraft; that is, in reality there is no interest under 10 percent. This is an unbearable situation for a people which must, for its own sake, reconstruct its economy by work and public works. Interest creates capital only in profitable economies. Interest paid out of real capital destroys capital.

We have to realise that when we in Germany are forced by necessities, over which we have no power, to the organisation of an internal economy, we cannot avoid a reorganisation of our social structure. These reorganisations are a thousand times easier than starving on account of the present situation.

That is the consequence of facing the beginning of a new epoch, from which we cannot withdraw.

Chancellor Brüning has certainly approached all these problems with good will, we have never doubted it.

But it seems to me that it was impossible to solve them as long as the leader of the government had to use up all his strength in dealing with those heterogeneous parties which are called a government. I consider it impossible in the long run to govern with a multitude of parties, and above all, it is impossible to solve problems. For this reason, the “voters’ revolution,” as it is often called, which we are experiencing today, is right. Small parties, whose demands are in inverse ratio to their size, which, because of their internal weakness and because of the immoral position they take up by remaining here when they have no support outside anymore, are subject to all kinds of corrupting influences. With these one cannot govern; they have to disappear, there is no doubt about it.

To a large extent, the German people have earned Adolf Hitler and his movement. We have gained for ourselves the task of governing by building up this movement out of nothing, against you all. The Lord may grant us fulfilment; we leave judgement to history.


Article sourced from Barbara Miller Lane’s & Leila J. Rupp’s Nazi Ideology before 1933: A Documentation (2014), University of Texas Press

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