The Christian Socialist Ahlen Program

“The capitalist economic system has failed…” The 1947 ‘Ahlen Program’ of the center-right Christian Democratic Union

CDU_GemeinwirtschaftThe collapse of the ‘Hitler-regime’ and Germany’s total defeat over the course of the War led many Germans to seek a clean break with the past. The ‘fresh start’ which they longed for was not just conceptualized in terms of a rejection of National Socialism and militarism, but also in terms of a desire to cast aside the capitalist economic system, to use the opportunity offered by the need to rebuild a shattered nation to construct a new economic system which would be eminently fairer and less prone to cronyism and abuse. This sentiment was not just confined to those on the Left; the conservative movement (particularly those formerly associated with the Catholic Zentrum) had a long history of Christian Socialism in their ranks, and these ideas came to the fore once more during the harsh winters and troubled economic times which immediately followed the end of the War. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had been founded in June 1945 as a catch-all movement for moderate conservatives and Christians of all denominations, and Christian Socialism became particularly popular among CDU members within the British Zone of occupation, an area which encompassed the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland. On 3 February, 1947, CDU members within the British Zone formalized the party’s commitment to Christian Socialist principles (while diplomatically choosing to avoid direct use of the term) by adopting the famous ‘Ahlen Program’, translated below. The Ahlen Program, which openly calls for the socialization of certain industries, the democratization of workplaces, and the forced break-up of companies above a certain size, was largely the work of local CDU leaders Johannes Albers and Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer would turn out to be more economically conservative than other members of the North-Rhine Westphalia branch, which explains why he later took both the CDU and Germany (as Chancellor) in a direction which ended up casting aside many of the more radical socialist ideals set out in this early founding document. 

The Ahlen Program
CDU Zone Committee for the British Zone, Ahlen / Westphalia,
3rd February 1947CDU

The CDU Zone Committee for the British Occupation Zone issued the following programmatic declaration at its conference of 1-3 February, 1947, in Ahlen:

The capitalist economic system has failed to do justice to the vital state and social interests of the German people. After the terrible political, economic, and social collapse which resulted from criminal power politics, only a new order built from the ground up can follow.

The content and goal of this new social and economic order can no longer be the capitalist pursuit of profit and power, but instead must be only the welfare of our people. A cooperative economic order should provide the German people with an economic and social constitution which accords with the rights and dignity of man, which serves the spiritual and material development of our people, and which secures peace both at home and abroad.

In recognition of this, the CDU party program of March 1946 sets forth the following principles:

The Goal of All Economic Activity is to Satisfy the Needs of the People

The economy has to serve the development of the creative forces of the people and the community. The starting-point for all economic activity is the recognition of the individual. Personal freedom in the economic sphere is closely linked to freedom in the political sphere. The shaping and management of the economy must not deprive the individual of his freedom. Therefore, it is necessary to:

Strengthen the economic position and freedom of the individual, and prevent economic forces from being concentrated in the hands of individual persons, companies, and private or public organizations, which could endanger economic or political freedom. Coal is the most crucial product of the entire German national economy. We demand the socialization of the mines.1

In pursuit of these principles, the CDU from this point forwards decides in favor of the following program for the reorganization of the economy:

I. The German Industrial Economy in the Past

1. Generally speaking, the German industrial economy was technically and scientifically at its peak in the period from 1918 to 1945. In this regard, no other countries could could bear any comparison with it. This was also true of mining. The clearest evidence for the technical and scientific heights attained by German industry is furnished through the statements of foreign statesmen and newspapers regarding the immense value of the German patents and secret processes which they confiscated. They acknowledge that German science, technology, and industry were well ahead in many areas.

2. In many respects the relationship between the German industrial economy and the state, and that between individual employees and the people as a whole, exhibited serious flaws. It should also not be overlooked here that, before it transitioned into a camouflaged state socialism in 1933, substantial portions of the industrial economy in Germany were under common ownership: almost the entirety of the railways, including local lines and trams; the postal service; the telegraph; broadcasting; the gas- and water-supply; the lion’s share of electricity production; a considerable part of mining in the British Zone; and all of the mining in the Saar region.

The cooperative system in Germany was also very highly-developed in all areas, including the financial system. The public-service-oriented influence in the financial and banking sectors was considerable due to the Reichsbank, state banks, giro associations, regional banks, and the savings banks. The same was also true of the insurance system, due to state and provincial insurance companies.

Yet there were serious defects in the important areas of mining and basic industries. The period following 1933 brought about an expansive conglomeration of industrial enterprises. By these means they acquired a monopolistic character. They became opaque to the public, and fell out of their control.

Even though, with a few exceptions such as Krupp, stock ownership of the major industrial enterprises was widely distributed, the composition of the supervisory and executive boards was determined by a relatively small circle of people, a consequence of a large number of shareholders being represented by a comparatively small number of banks. As a result, those belonging to this narrow circle of representatives of the big banks and the major industrial enterprises possessed too much economic power, and thus also too much political power.

Before 1933, the relationship between the employee and his company was beginning to develop in a fashion that took the interests of the employee into account. By 1933, however, this development had not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion. During the 1933 to 1945 period the larger industrial companies were state-owned enterprises, in substance if not in name. The National Socialist state claimed for itself the right to remove, without hesitation, any leading personality who resisted it politically or economically; it awarded contracts, distributed raw materials and labor power accordingly, set prices, fixed wages, etc.

The employee was powerless in relation to his company. There were no wages movements, no salary increases, no opportunities to change workplace, no right to participate in the company’s management. A disguised state socialism dominated to the fullest extent.

II. The New Structure of the German Industrial Economy

The new structure of the German economy must work from the assumption that the age of unlimited rule by private capital is over. Yet the replacement of private capitalism by state capitalism must also be avoided, as this would be even more dangerous for the political and economic freedom of the individual. A new economic structure must be found, one which eschews the mistakes of the past and which opens up opportunities for technical progress and individual creative initiative.

1. Concerns and similar economic entities that are not absolutely technically, socially, or economically essential must be broken up and transformed into independent, stand-alone companies. Technological development requires of certain companies that they be a minimum size, in particular so that they are capable of competing against those of foreign countries. It is imperative that enterprises of this sort be left to retain this minimum size.

2. Companies of a monopolistic character, or companies which have to exceed a certain size, are invested with an economic power – and thus also with a political power – which can jeopardize freedom within the state. This danger must therefore be obviated through the enactment of appropriate anti-trust laws. (See Motion 1 by the CDU caucus in the Landtag of North-Rhine Westphalia). Furthermore, the power-sharing principle shall be implemented within these companies, so that any domination over key sectors of the economy by the state, private persons, or groups – which would be incompatible with the common good – is rendered impossible.

a) To this end, public bodies such as the state, regional administration, municipality, and local authority associations, as well as cooperatives and employees working in a company, should all have a hand in these companies: the urgently needed entrepreneurial initiative must be afforded requisite flexibility.

b) Furthermore, the concentration of private stock ownership within such enterprises into a single hand in terms of ownership or voting rights should be legally restricted.

3. Mining. Coalmines have a quintessentially monopolistic character because of the primary product [Urproduktes] they extract, which is of vital importance to the entire nation. Therefore, the application of the principles set out in section II/2 is a matter of urgency; this means they must be socialized.

If, under certain circumstances, the state-owned enterprise appears to be a more expedient form for these companies, the above principles should not stand in the way of the implementation of this form.

4. Large-scale iron-production industry. The path of socialization must also be followed in large-scale iron-producing industries. (Motion 2 of the CDU caucus in the Landtag of North-Rhine Westphalia).

5. The cooperative system must be vigorously expanded, and the legal form of its foundations within the economic field should also be strongly promoted.

6. The regulatory control of the financial, banking, and insurance systems, which had already begun before 1933, must be further expanded.

7. Efficient small- and medium-sized businesses must be promoted for the sake of their national economic value and for the opportunities they provide for social advancement. Within industry, commerce, handicrafts, and the trades, private entrepreneurship must be preserved and supported.

8. Lawfully-acquired property, which was not misused for purposes of political abuse, is otherwise to be respected within the framework of the general laws during the implementation of this economic restructuring.

III. Redefining the Relationship Between Employer and Employee in the Workplace

In companies where, owing to their size, the relationship between employee and employer is no longer founded upon a personal basis, the employees’ right to codetermination2 in fundamental questions of economic planning and social organization must be guaranteed. Initially this must be achieved by ensuring that employees in a company have the representation on its governing bodies (e.g. on the company’s supervisory board)3 to which they are entitled. To this end, it is necessary to reform corporate law. In particular, a stronger position is to be conferred upon the supervisory board vis- à -vis the management.

In large companies with multi-person executive boards, company employees who have distinguished themselves through many years of service in support of the business should be awarded with participation in the management of the company through their appointment to the executive board. Appointments are to be made via recommendation by company staff, who have to submit at least three nominations to the supervisory board.

Chairmen of the works councils, elected by the workforce, must be given the opportunity to participate in all matters which pertain to the social interests of employees.4 Furthermore, management must no matter the circumstances provide reports to the works councils on the company’s situation once per month, and company employees are to be to be afforded the right to be provided information in these meetings.

Appropriate measures shall be taken to ensure for employees a share in their company’s profits. The forms of this contribution may be of various types, as well as subject to specific arrangements. (See Motion 3 of the CDU caucus in the Landtag of North-Rhine Westphalia).

IV. Planning and Management of the Economy

The planning and management of the economy will be necessary to a considerable degree for a long time to come; there is, however, a difference between whether planning and management are carried out in relation to the difficulties in the economic situation, whether they are considered necessary on a case-by-case basis, or whether the planning and management of the economy is seen as an end in and of itself. Even in normal times, the planning and management of the economy will be necessary to a certain extent; this stems from our belief that the economy has to serve the fulfillment of the peoples’ basic needs.

These planning and management tasks should be administered by self-governing economic bodies in the form of economic chambers. Whether these economic chambers will be identical to the chambers of industry and commerce is of secondary importance. In any event, it is essential that the broad masses of workers and consumers participate on an equal footing alongside the entrepreneurs in the planning and management tasks going on within this economic self-government. The final decisions of these self-governing bodies are also to be subject to parliamentary control. (See Motion 4 of the CDU caucus in the Landtag of North-Rhine Westphalia).

V. Within Every Reform of the German Economy…

Within every reform of the German economy, regardless of whether it might involve land reform, the reconstruction of the industrial economy, or the redefinition of the relationship between employees and companies, the first and foremost goal is the welfare of the entire people [Volkes]. Above all, the German economy serves neither the welfare of a particular class nor that of foreign nations. After the German people’s necessities of life have been satisfied, the Allies in particular do have a right to, and an interest in, the elimination of the excessive war industry as well as reparations payments. But they have no right to curtail German industry in such a fashion that the vital needs of the German people are neglected, nor to mold it according to the export needs of their own industries. The dismantling of factories which were not part of the war industry would service this purpose, as would the transfer of the ownership of basic industries to the German state, since both would allow any desired economic initiative to be achieved simply by applying political pressure upon the politically weak state.

It is important to keep in mind that the German economy is not just industrial in nature; its essential parts include: the industrial economy, the peasant economy, handicrafts, commerce, skilled trades, transport, and the financial and banking system.

All sectors of the economy are intertwined and interdependent. No aspect can be viewed in isolation from the others. Connections with other economic sectors must therefore be taken into consideration during the designing of the industrial economy.


Translator’s Notes

1. ‘Socialization’ – in German ‘Vergesellschaftung’. This term does not have a direct translation in English. In general it means something like ‘societization’, i.e. to transform something isolated (non-associative) into something socially-rooted (associative). In economic contexts it is variously rendered in English as ‘nationalization’, ‘socialization’, ‘communalization’, ‘public ownership’, ‘social ownership’, etc., since all of these technically constitute ‘associative’ economic relationships, whereas capitalism is by contrast considered far more individualistic, and thus ‘non-associative’. I was conflicted over whether to translate the term as ‘nationalization’ or ‘socialization’; eventually I went with the latter, since that is probably closer to the intent of the program’s authors. Either way, they are indicating here that the mines (and other industries) should be brought under a form of public ownership.

2. ‘Right to codetermination’‘Mitbestimmungsrecht’ in German. ‘Codetermination’ is the right of workers to have direct involvement in their company’s management through being able to to elect representatives to sit upon the company’s board of directors.

3. ‘Supervisory board’‘Aufsichtsrat’ in German. Another term for ‘board of directors’. In Germany the Aufsichtsrat represents the stockholders of a company, and provides supervision to the Vorstand (executive board), which has decision-making power as the company’s central management body.

4. ‘Works Council’‘Betriebsrat’ in German. Works councils are representative bodies within workplaces whose membership is comprised of delegates elected by workers from the ‘shop floor’. Works council delegates may or may not be union members. Usually their role is to negotiate with management to adapt nationally-negotiated labour and industrial agreements to the conditions of their specific workplace. Works councils were formally introduced in Germany during the Weimar era as part of the constitutional reforms introduced specifically through the influence of the Social-Democrats. Social-Democrats and the labour unions hoped to use them as a stepping-stone to the introduction of an ‘economic democracy’; the idea was to gradually expand the works councils in terms of size and responsibility until they constituted the means for democratic control of industry by the workers. This self-evidently did not happen, although works councils still exist and still play a prominent role today in German industrial relations today.


Translated from Bernt Engelmann’s Wie wir wurden, Was wir sind: Von der Bedingungslosen Kapitulation bis zur unbedingten Wiederbewaffnung (1980), C. Bertelsmann Verlag

3 thoughts on “The Christian Socialist Ahlen Program

  1. Honestly, I am not at all convinced on this description of the Ahlen Program in regards to the West German Wirtschaftswunder, Bogumil. At best, we are looking at some of the ideas behind the Soziale Marktwirtschaft (Social Market Economy), like Codetermination and the emphasis on the needs of the employee over that of the employers, still continues even today under Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel. The Soziale Marktwirtschaft is a Liberal Capitalist ideological theory which dates back to the Weimar Republic and could have been fully implemented earlier if it were not for the Great Depression, Hitler and the NSDAP, and the Second World War. Its ideas are related to the Ordo-Liberalism of German “Economic Liberalism” or “Liberal Capitalism,” which have also been around back in the Weimar years.

    The crux behind the Marktwirtschaft is that the State serves the interests of the Market Economy by taming some of the worst impulses of Liberal Capitalist ideology. This accounts for why the Ahlen Program espouses ideas very similar to Social Democracy in the sense that the CDU/CSU wanted “Liberal Capitalism with a Human Face” without the worst impulses of the Free Market Economy that we often find in places like Britain or the United States and Canada.

    The problems with the Marktwirtschaft arise when we consider four historical issues associated with that economic system since the 1960s, as Social Democracy in West Germany began to take on an increasingly Liberal Capitalist stance by the latter half of the Cold War and afterward when West and East Germany reunited.

    (1) We should take into account the fact that the post-1945 Wirtschaftswunder in West Germany was the result of the Bretton Woods System, which only became active by the 1960s. The pro-Tax Haven OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the Marshall Plan by the US, as well as the restoration of Liberal Capitalist ideology in West Germany under Konrad Adenauer were a few more factors, along with the Gold Standard in particular being reformed by the US.

    (2) Let us not forget that the Gold Standard and the Bretton Woods System both met their demises in West Germany towards the end of that decade, the US struggling to sustain West Germany and their Liberal International Economic Order (LIEO) and their own economy with US Dollars, and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) having to create XDRs (“Special Drawing Rights” as they are known according to the International Standardization Organization) to keep the Bretton Woods System afloat until it finally failed along with the Gold Standard. This is why the “Washington Consensus” was proposed by the US as its replacement.

    (3) The Marktwirtschaft should never be seen as a “Socialist Market Economy” like the kind we saw in China after the death of Chairman Mao. The Socialist Market Economy of the People’s Republic of China was more appropriately referred to by Chen Yun as the “Birdcage Economy,” because the Market Economy is caged within the framework of a Planned Economy. Which is being caged in a Marktwirtschaft, the State or the Market Economy? Obviously, it is the State, whose purposes are subservient to the Market Economy for the Utilization and personal Pleasure of the Market Economy with a Welfare Capitalist veneer to mask the State’s subservience.

    (4) The Marktwirtschaft is still vulnerable to the fluctuations of the Liberal Capitalist business cycle, including Economic Recessions and Depressions. It is most especially vulnerable of becoming Privatized and gutted, which turned out to be the case under Gerhard Schröder of the SPD during the “Hartz Reforms” of the 2000s. A new Great Recession or another Great Depression, caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic, is always a very real possibility that we should take into account at all times.
    I would like to know why this particular economic system should become the focus of any discussion here on the ARPLAN Blog because I have had a number of bad experiences with such a system before.

      • I am glad that you were interested in my analysis, because a number of the finer points discussed in the Ahlen Program were implemented regardless since some of them were already in their infancy during the Weimar Republic years. Knowing that they were originally implemented in the Weimar years tells me that the Federal Republic of Germany is in many respects a continuation of the old Weimar Republic and that those same ideas were allowed to exist under the watch of the occupying Allied Forces as a result.

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