SA and German Revolution

“A new Germany, reborn in a spiritual revolution of nationalist and socialist intent!” Ernst Röhm’s 1933 article on the SA’s role as vehicle for the ‘German Revolution’

The article by Ernst Röhm below was first published in the June 1933 edition of Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, a monthly political and cultural journal produced by the NSDAP for the purposes of advancing the theoretical foundations of the National Socialist movement. The article constitutes an interesting, early artifact of the tumultuous early period of 1933-34, when the government was still finding its footing and when the paramilitary SA was still an untethered, unpredictable force advocating for a ‘second revolution’. The months leading up to the article had been frequently punctuated by violence on the SA’s part, engendered partly by disillusionment over the lack of rapid economic reforms (many Stormtroopers were unemployed and hoped to receive official positions in nationalized, state-run enterprises) and suspicion that the revolution had been co-opted by the same bourgeois reactionaries the Party had always so vociferously fought against. It was not uncommon at the time for bored, disgruntled, and frequently drunk SA-men to take out their frustrations on the general public (particularly the bourgeoisie) or on members of the Stahlhelm and other still-legal nationalist paramilitaries. The massive influx of new members into the SA (the organization grew from 400,000 members in 1932 to at least 4million by 1934) also led to problems, with common criminals joining a Sturm to provide political cover for looting, burglary, and other crimes. Röhm tried to reign his men in when their behaviors became too indefensible, but he also sympathized with them, and at times helped fan the flames of dissatisfaction with speeches and articles like that below. Röhm, contemptuous of the Party’s political cadres and even more dismissive of the bourgeois civil service, saw the SA as the basis for Germany’s future government administration. Such a massive transformation would not be achieved if the German Revolution stabilized and petered out, if the Bildungsbürgertum in the political offices and economic institutions were not forcefully dislodged from their positions to make way for revolutionary new blood. Röhm’s radical position, and the fear it caused in the army that he was a destabilizing element and the catalyst for a potential civil war, would ultimately cost him his life. 

SA and German Revolution
Ernst Röhm, SA Chief-of-Staff

First published in Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, vol. 4, no. 39, June 1933

A victory has been achieved by means of the German Revolution.

The swastika banner flutters upon every bastion of state power, over every place of work, and from every business office of the economy.

The organizational forms of Marxism in Germany have been smashed. The Festival of German Labour,1 that day of mutual confession from the nation to the worker and from the worker to the nation, has sounded the death knell for the insanity of proletarian class-hatred. Adolf Hitler’s iron will has guided the thinking of the Volk with compelling force to the amalgamation of national spirit with socialist will.

A tremendous victory has been achieved. But not absolute victory!

The new state has had no need to disown the bearers of the revolutionary uprising’s will, as the November-men2 had to do with the red gangs who were the fellow-travelers of their revolt born of cowardice and treason. In the New Germany the disciplined brown storm-battalions of the German Revolution stand side by side with the armed forces.

Not as part of them.

The Reichswehr has its own clear task: it is incumbent upon it to defend the the borders of the Reich, insofar as its modest numbers and wholly inadequate armaments enable it to do so.

The police are expected to hold down lawbreakers.

Alongside them there is the new state’s third power-factor with their own specific tasks, the SA and SS.

The Führer and Chancellor of the German Volk needs them, given that the mighty work of German renewal still lies before him.

For the SA and SS are the cornerstone of the coming National Socialist state. Their state, for which they have fought, and which they will claim. The SA and SS are the militant-spiritual bearers of the will of the German Revolution!

Already scattered prigs [Spießer] and grumblers are venturing forth again with the astonishing question of what the SA and SS actually still want. Hitler is now in power. We are National once more. Swastika flags wave over every street. Tranquility and order prevail everywhere. And if they should ever be disturbed, the police would ensure that they be restored as quickly as possible. So why, still, SA and SS!?

These stiffs and moaners, whether they now stand in the ranks of our eternal and irreconcilable opponents, whether they are “co-ordinated”3 or even bear the swastika, have not understood the meaning of the German Revolution and will never understand it.

The course of events from 30th January to 21st March 1933 does not constitute the meaning and essence of the German National Socialist Revolution.4

Whoever desired to be our companion only during blazing torchlight processions and spectacular marches, among rolling drums and booming timpani, amidst blaring fanfares and under waving standards and flags, and who now believes they have “participated” in the German Revolution – he can go home! He confused the “national uprising” with the German Revolution! He intoxicated himself on the veneer of things, allowed himself perhaps to be swept away on the unprecedented rhythm of the Day of Potsdam, looked pleased seeing millions of workers of the fist5 marching for Germany at the Festival of German Labor, felt for a few hours the breath of our spirit, – – but he is not ours!! For in the coming years of struggle he would creep quietly back behind the stove, or to the writing-desk, or onto the ale-bench, from where he first came. The fighters in the simple brown service shirts of the SA and SS6 will miss him on their way to the German Revolution just about as much as they encountered him while leading their impassioned struggle for a New Germany over long years marked in sacrifices and in blood.

Certainly, we SA-men and SS-men commit ourselves to the national uprising. With more justification than many others who we suddenly see at our side today. Because without us there would never have been that tremendous awakening of the Volk to the idea of the nation! But the national uprising is for us not the meaning and purpose of our struggle, but only a stage of the German Revolution which we must pass through in order to reach the National Socialist state, our ultimate goal!

Therefore, to those – whether “Party-comrades” or “co-ordinated” – who have swiftly and eagerly taken their seats of power in the New Germany, who already used to sit in them before, and who now hold that everything is in fine order and that the Revolution should now finally be laid to rest, let it be said completely coldly and dispassionately:

The storm-men of the brown front have, amidst anonymous sacrifices, borne the banner of the German uprising through many dark years of cowardice, persecution, and terror. Through countless nights disturbed by work and struggle and blood, their one goal shone brightly: a new Germany, reborn in a spiritual revolution of nationalist and socialist intent!

This goal is still far from being achieved. And so long as the real National Socialist Germany is still awaiting its fulfillment, then the bitter, passionate struggle of the SA and SS does not end!

The leader of the Prussian People’s Levy [Volksaufgebots] during the Wars of Liberation of 1813-15, Blücher, saw himself pushed aside by politicians and diplomats after the Corsican’s defeat.7 He looked deeper than the unctuous gentlemen at the negotiation tables, seeing what was actually troubling the Volk and what they had actually fought for with such an unprecedented willingness to make sacrifices. When he was sidelined with 100 honors and 1000 pretty words, he warned: Politicians shouldn’t spoil what soldiers fought for with their blood! His warning was fruitless. Out of the Vienna Peace Conference came the Vienna Peace. It looked very nice and… actually left everything as it was. The compensation for the Volk who had been cheated out of their hopes and sacrifices were the liberation efforts of the student fraternities8 and the gymnasts,9 and – lastly – the rattle of shots from the barricades in the year 1848!

It was not the front-soldier who lost the World War, but the army of non-fighters who wanted peace and therefore shattered the arms of the front-lines.

The laws of history are eternal. Learning from them is the simplest sign of wisdom.

Hence the SA and SS will not countenance the German Revolution dying off or being betrayed halfway through by non-fighters! Not for their own sake, but for Germany’s sake. Because the brown army is the nation’s last stand, the final bulwark against communism.

If the German Revolution founders due to resistance from reactionaries, ineptitude, or inertia, the German people will plunge into despair and become easy prey for the blood-stained delirium of the Asiatic expanses.

That is why the thinking of some of the “co-ordinated”, and even of certain minor rank officials who are today calling themselves “National Socialist”, that peacefulness is the first civic duty, is a betrayal of the German Revolution.

During our long years of self-sacrifice for the yearned-for New Germany, we did not see those people who today can be found everywhere murmuring – for the moment still quietly – their dutiful bourgeois slogans about peacefulness and order. At best they stood aside and watched as we fought and bled for Germany. To them we were too coarse, too rowdy, too radical! As we still remain to them today. It is sufficient for them that the black-white-red colors of the Bismarckian Reich – and, as a revolutionary concession, the swastika-flag – fly over Germany. They are also satisfied with the measure of external power they have won so far, which they may partake in. They would even be satisfied with significantly less, because they did not need to fight for it, but are only the beneficiaries of our victory!

And if they think today that it is time to do away with revolutionary phenomena and to return to “orderly conditions”, then we say to them:

We, the SA and SS, devoted to our Supreme SA-Leader Adolf Hitler in loyalty and obedience, have borne the swastika-flags of the National Socialist Revolution which today flutter over Germany to the battlements of the state through the most difficult years. Starting as a small handful, we pulled the German worker out of the class-struggle front of the international proletariat, first with the fist, then with the brother’s hand and heart, and as fighters we established ourselves within the dome of thought of the Fatherland, which is founded on the supporting pillars of national and socialist will. Completely alone have we drummed up and down the streets and all over the country these many years. We fought, bled, and suffered. We had not grown weary in this harsh, fanatical struggle by the time the German Volk became irresistibly swept along in the nation’s vast awakening. We are proudly and unreservedly committed to the high honor and weighty responsibility of getting the German Revolution rolling. The bearers of the will of the German National Socialist Revolution are marching today under our storm-banners: workers, peasants, and soldiers.

If those with bourgeois souls think it sufficient if the state apparatus receives different symbols, that the “National” Revolution has been going on too long, then we are exceptionally happy to agree with them on this: It is indeed high time that the National Revolution ceases and that it becomes National Socialist!

Whether it suits them or not – we will carry on with our struggle. If they finally grasp what it’s about: with them! If they don’t want to: without them! And, if need be: against them!

Because we do not feel responsible for them, but for our almost 400 comrades who fell for a National Socialist Germany! And for the German nation!

Germany becomes National Socialist or it perishes!

And that is why the German Revolution continues, until the swastika on our flags and badges is no longer just an outward symbol of honest confession or continual co-ordination [Gleichschaltung], but has become the sacred heart’s possession of the entire Volk!

In loyalty and discipline and obedience we followed our beloved Supreme SA-Leader Adolf Hitler along his difficult path. We know his goal, which is also uncompromisingly ours: National Socialist Germany. And we will keep watch relentlessly to ensure that the co-ordinated and half-co-ordinated do not hang like lead blocks on the Führer’s sacred socialist will. We, Adolf Hitler’s SA-men and SS-men, are incorruptible guarantors that the German Revolution is to be fulfilled until national and socialist will have fused into an indivisible whole: a National Socialist Volk in a National Socialist state!

Translator’s Notes

1. “The Festival of German Labor” – in German “Das Fest der deutschen Arbeit”. The National Socialist government in 1933 declared May 1st a paid holiday for the first time in German history; previous attempts during the Weimar era to codify the date as a holiday had been unsuccessful. The following year May Day was renamed the ‘National Holiday of the German Volk’, with its import reoriented so that it no longer celebrated just the proletariat but instead all the German Volk regardless of social position – a reinterpretation more in line with the National Socialist ideal of the Volksgemeinschaft, the classless ‘peoples’ community’ where spiritual racial ties transcend material class ties. The 1933 May Day is today primarily remembered due to it preceding the forced dismantling of the unions, a process which began the very next day on May 2nd. What is sometimes overlooked is that by May 2nd the ADGB (the largest socialist trade union confederation) had already severed its ties with the Social-Democratic Party, declared itself open to “positive co-operation” with the state, and had even spent the past month trying to negotiate a potential merger with the Christian unions and the NSBO (the National Socialist union). This is perhaps not that surprising when one considers how confused the new regime’s attitude to the unions was in the early months after Hitler attained the Chancellorship; there were even many in the Party (particularly in the NSBO, which itself was to be subordinated to and then absorbed by the new German Labor Front) who believed that there was to be a place for independent trade unions within the rising Third Reich.

2. “November-men” – A reference to the November Revolution of 1918, which brought an end to the monarchy and the Second Reich and instituted a brief, tumultuous period of revolutionary rule by workers’ and soldiers’ councils. The “November-men” are the Social-Democrats (SPD), while the “red gangs” are the communists (USPD and Spartacists/KPD). After the November Revolution, the more moderate SPD grew so alarmed by rising radicalism and the possibility of a Bolshevist Germany that it was forced to work against the KPD and to even turn the Reichswehr and the Freikorps against their “fellow-travelers”. Röhm was not the first National Socialist to draw an analogy between the NSDAP’s relationship with the SA and the SPD’s relationship with the communists, although here he does so negatively.

3. “Co-ordinated” – ‘Co-ordination’ (in German ‘Gleichschaltung’) referred to the process by which the new National Socialist regime ‘co-ordinated’ individuals, groups, and organizations (including state bodies) so that they were in line with the spirit and policies of the government.  ‘Co-ordination’ of state departments and public agencies also meant that many state officials (typically middle- to upper-middle-class members of the educated, propertied bourgeoisie, many of whom had no doubt been quite comfortable serving previous conservative and liberal-bourgeois administrations) were now also pulled into the orbit of the NSDAP, either joining the Party or de facto working to further its goals through their roles as civil servants. By mockingly using the term ‘co-ordinated’ (gleichgeschaltet) to describe these bourgeois ‘stiffs’ and ‘prigs’, Röhm is alleging that their newfound conversion to National Socialism is little more than skin-deep opportunism, and that it will create a barrier to the realization of the true National Socialist state.

4. “21st March 1933” – The date of the ‘Day of Potsdam’, in which the new Reichstag was formally convened following the March elections and the Reichstag fire. Potsdam was chosen as the site for the ceremony because of its association as a residence for the old Prussian aristocracy, and much of the day’s propaganda emphasized Hitler as the natural heir of Frederick the Great, Bismarck, and Hindenburg. The Day of Potsdam was an immense public relations success for the government; images of Hitler lowering his head in quiet deference as he took Hindenburg’s hand, coupled with the thunder of cannon fire, solemn speeches, and the laying of wreaths at the tombs of Prussian kings, made a powerful impact on even moderate and democratically-minded Germans. It cemented the impression for many that the torch of the Wilhelmine era had been passed on, and that Hitler and National Socialism had absorbed the gravity and maturity of their Prussian forebears.

5. A reference to the National Socialist slogan “Arbeiter der Stirn und der Faust,” i.e. “workers of brow and fist”. The slogan emphasized the Volksgemeinschaft elements of National Socialism, that the NSDAP was a true peoples’ party which appealed to all workers regardless of class, whether white-collar (“workers of brow”) or blue-collar (“workers of fist”). As Goebbels put it in his 1928 article Why A Workers’ Party?: “A deeply-furrowed brow is just as much a sign of work as a callused hand. The white-collar worker should not be ashamed to make his title of honor that which the blue-collar worker affirms with pride: work. Their shared fate results automatically from the interdependency of both these types. Because one simply cannot get by without the other, because both are just limbs on one organism.”

6. The SS when founded in March 1925 was formally a sub-organization of the SA, and SS-members wore their own variation on the brownshirt uniform until around 1932. The SS was not made formally independent of the SA until after the 1934 Blood Purge.

7. “The Corsican” is a reference to Napoleon. “Blücher” refers to Generalfeldmarschall Leberecht von Blücher, a Prussian nobleman who made his name as a military commander during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815. Blücher was supportive of the Prussian army’s reform into a Volksaufgebot, or ‘People’s Levy’, a civilian army manned through universal conscription. Conscription remained in place until the collapse of the Second Reich in 1918 and the institution of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, although for budgetary reasons the army’s official size was set at 1% of the German population. The National Socialist government eventually reintroduced the Volksaufgebot concept in the 1944-45 period to describe the conscription and mobilization of the entire German nation (including women and youth) for military services on the home front, such as building border defenses.

8. The student fraternities (Burschenschaften) played an extremely important role in German political history. The Wars of Liberation in 1813-15 had a mobilizing effect on the youth, with every second or third student flocking as volunteers to fight against France. Flushed with victory and nationalist fervor, students returning from the battlefield founded fraternal organizations with a strong political orientation. The fraternities were motivated primarily by liberalism, nationalism, and Protestantism; stridently anti-reactionary, they advocated against traditional monarchical authoritarianism and for pan-German unity in a single, democratic nation-state. The fraternities were thus opposed to the German Confederation which emerged out of the Vienna Peace Conference, since it neither truly united the German states nor brought any real meaningful political reform. Fraternities played a central role in the developing democratic movement over the following decades, acting as a driving force in the liberal-nationalist revolution of 1848 and paving the way for the unification of the Second Reich in 1871.

9. “Gymnasts” – “Turner” in German. Like student fraternities, gymnastics had long had a strong political connotation in Germany. The ‘Turner’ gymnastics exercises which were popularized in German lands from 1811 onwards by creator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn were intended not only for purposes of exercise, but to train young men in the bodily strength they would need as soldiers – and to help foster a feeling of liberal-national, pan-German resistance against Napoleonic conquest. Jahn’s Turnerbewegung (‘gymnastics movement’) maintained this liberal-nationalist link for decades. Gymnastics associations took part in the 1813-15 wars and in the 1848 revolution, and gymnastics were even partially banned within some territories of the German Confederation from 1820-1842 following the assassination of writer August von Kotzebue by a radical student gymnast. The nationalist idealism of some Turnerbewegung offshoots grew gradually more völkisch in orientation over future decades, as the physical idealism of gymnastics matched well with völkisch notions about Aryan beauty, eugenics, and physical self-improvement. It is no coincidence that the SA’s first name was the ‘Gymnastics and Sports Association’, for example, or that Konrad Henlein (leader of the fascist Sudeten German Party) was also head of the Sudetenland’s Turnerbewegung.


Translated from Ernst Röhm’s SA und deutsche Revolution, (June 1933), Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, vol. 4, no. 39

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