“Reich unity after three hundred years!” A 1933 article by trade-union leader Franz Joseph Furtwängler, extolling the achievements and possibilities of the Hitler government
In the endless debate over whether or not National Socialism can be considered a form of “real socialism,” the common narrative about the fate of Germany’s trade-unions in 1933 is frequently cited as evidence to the contrary. On 1 May 1933, the narrative goes, May Day was celebrated as a paid national holiday for the first time, with labour unions voluntarily participating in nationwide festivities; the very next day, however, the Hitler government’s true face was revealed, and the SA and police were sent out to forcibly crush the unions and throw their members into prison. While on a general level this narrative is essentially correct, it is also oversimplified: only certain unions were targeted on 2 May, only specific functionaries were taken into “protective custody,” union assets and memberships were expropriated (for incorporation into the German Labour Front) rather than the entire labour apparatus being “crushed” or dismantled, etc. What is most commonly omitted from the narrative is the fact that those trade-unions targeted (the ‘free’ or Social-Democratic unions) had already been actively collaborating with the Hitler government for some time. This was especially true of the General German Trade-Union Federation (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, ADGB), which with a membership of 4 million and a paid staff of 200,000 constituted the largest and most significant trade-union organization in Germany. Although linked to the Social-Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) by a variety of formal and informal ties, the ADGB was technically independent of the SPD and had been since 1919, possessing its own internal culture – heavily dominated by Social-Democracy’s reformist (right-leaning) tendency – and with a segment of its leadership even comprising a key faction within Social-Democracy’s neorevisionist (nationalist or ‘far right’) wing. Influenced by these qualities, as well as by Social-Democracy’s declining political influence and the increasing likelihood of a right-wing authoritarian government, the ADGB in 1932 had begun to further distance itself from the SPD and to establish surreptitious negotiations with the Papen and Schleicher governments, hoping in this way to protect its members and the rights won for them since 1918. These negotiations continued even after Hitler took power, with the ADGB leadership going so far as to declare itself “at the service of the new state” and actively involving itself in deliberations over the charter for a corporatist social structure. This conciliatory attitude was reflected in official trade-union publications like Die Arbeit and the Gewerkschafts-Zeitung, which adopted an increasingly nationalistic tone as 1933 wore on. The article translated below provides a rather striking example of this shift in attitude. Written by Franz Joseph Furtwängler, a member of the ADGB’s executive leadership, it is openly and remarkably adulatory towards the Hitler regime, with Furtwängler applauding the political order brought to Germany (including the dismantling of the party-system!) by the NSDAP and offering the plaintive hope that the government would prove equally successful in the socio-economic sphere, while still recognizing the value and importance of the trade-union movement. Furtwängler, incidentally, was to be one of those arrested on 2 May, and would later involve himself in resistance activities; whether the NS government could have retained his loyalty and support by way of different actions is an interesting hypothetical.
Reich Unity After Three Hundred Years!
By F.J. Furtwängler1
First published 22 April, 1933 in trade-union journal
Gewerkschafts-Zeitung vol. 43, no.16
The fundamental, profound, and – we hope – pioneering beginnings of a transformation in the body politic and in the structure of the Reich have emerged in recent weeks.
Let us recall how, at the end of the previous year, under the general interregnum of Chancellor von Schleicher, tentative efforts were made to find organically grown and consolidated forces for the shaping of state and economy, for resolving our intolerable situation, outside of the traditional party-factions conditioned by the circumstances of the Bismarckian Reich.2 Let us also recall the universal opposition of the [parliamentary] factional prelates, one of whom, the prominent Herr Ludwig Kaas,3 cast a witty remark among the electoral throng at the time about “ideological parties”4 being absolutely beneficial to the German character and hence needing to be preserved, because the trading license of their “worldview” offered the guarantee, so to speak, that they would solve contemporary problems for the benefit of the German Volk.
In fact, for years the parliamentary parties have prolonged life for themselves by forgoing their exercise of power in favor of the government’s expansive manipulation of the emergency clauses of the constitution, and finally by taking advantage of Communist ‘blocking majorities’ in parliament, irrespective of their ‘worldview’ – something utterly unthinkable in countries with an organic rather than a mechanical democracy. At the same time, the power and authority of the Reich President inevitably expanded until, in the eyes of the people, he acquired the image of an elective Kaiser.
Officially, of course, we remained “upon the grounds of the constitution,” so that by the end only the less erudite among the Volk felt the changing times in their bones, so to speak, much like a rheumatic feels the change in the weather, while the responsible ideological political administrations were neither conscious of the change nor understood what needed to be done.
In a Reichstag session held under the new government, the factional system of governance has now been visibly and definitively stripped of its power. When that preeminent advocate of the factional idea, the same prelate Kaas, acceded to the complete renunciation of authority before the new dictatorial government of the absolute state, this was a final and most precipitous outcome of deepest symbolism. The Bolshevist “ideological party” has already been suppressed for being seditious and subservient to foreigners; the lifeblood of the liberal-parliamentary groups, particularly that of the SPD, has been throttled by press bans and other measures; and the relationship between the latter and the professional workers’ associations has already been rendered obsolete in purely practical terms.5 All of this signifies an incomparably thorough paralyzation of the traditional factional system, with the aim of creating national unity on the level of a new order.
With that same aim in mind, the provincial barriers [Länderbarrieren] within the Reich have been broken, and broken no less impactfully nor no less thoroughly. The South German ballot results of 5 March were for the most part a popular protest against the frivolous game being played with the ‘Main-line’.6
From this protest the government drew the logical conclusions, and it began initially by dispatching Reichskommissars to the South German Länder. But then came the crucial historical step which readjusted centuries of German statehood: Reich Governors are now to be appointed by decree in every Länder. Dualism, the political counter-play between Prussia and the Reich, has come to an end with the fact that the Chancellor is now also the Governor of Prussia. The Governors appoint the Minister-Presidents, and through them the ministries. The Länder parliaments are now only provincial assemblies. The Reich has been elevated into a unitary state, it is now what England and France have been for centuries, a condition which accounts for their supremacy and which has incidentally also made it possible for them to establish formal democracy domestically, something which people in Germany believed they would be able to carry out without such preconditions. This deed, in all of its significance, is appreciated abroad far moreso than it is here. Anti-German newspapers in France stress that the Germany of poets and visionaries – the land of political impotence – is now over. The grotesque significance of the French legation in Bavaria, which months before had been expanded into the larger apparatus of an embassy, was appreciated only all too well. It was recognized that from that country the Reich was being undermined via the Main-line and its various concerns, and that France perhaps still placed some hopes for separatism in other zones as well; that it was pleased when the Volk of philosophy and dogmatism lost sight of the world and its great affairs because of their partisan, confessional, and provincial [kleinstaatlichen] squabbles; yes, that it regarded these conditions virtually as a factor in its own power politics.
This tragedy has run through German existence for centuries. The fractured state of the Reich and the fissuring of its Volk have prevented the individual’s pride and sense of honour from being focused upon the concept of the nation, as they are in other countries. The idle lifestyle of the small farmsteads and the servility of the Volk were the tragic consequences, and they led us ever deeper into misery. Instability and treachery became German attributes and a permanent factor in foreign calculations. It was not Bonaparte who originally brought forth that implement of disintegration which was the Confederation of the Rhine, but a German hero of particularistic ‘concerns’ – the Prince-Elector of Mainz in the era of Louis XIV!7 A hundred wars have been ignited by speculation over German self-destruction. For it is an experience confirmed the world over that it is not the stronger peoples [Völker] who are the greatest threat to world peace, but in fact the weak and the defenseless, for they provoke the unrest and avarice of the powerful.
Three hundred years ago, Germany stood in the midst of a bloody orgy of “ideological parties” as they were let loose against one another. It found itself in the fifteenth year of a thirty-year civil war which was being waged in the interests of and with the support of foreign powers, a war which ravaged the country, which exhausted the Volk, which practically dissolved the Reich, and which brought about a ‘peace treaty’ that gave neighboring states the right to constantly intervene in domestic matters. Over the course of the centuries this right became an unofficial law.
It was only with Bismarck’s creation of the Reich that this state of affairs was formally brought to an end. The Reich was founded by him as a federation of territorial sovereigns, but not yet as the nation of a united Volk. In his Thoughts and Memories8 he himself voiced the concern that the Reich would collapse with the departure of the nobles. This did not happen after 1918, however. The national idea had put down deep roots over the decades. In hours of acute danger the Volk stood firmly together. The Frenchman Tardieu termed this a “union of souls” which can no longer be divided through force. But instead of force, domestic party disputes and quarrels between the Länder were drawn into the equation, with Austria’s forced ‘independence’ and the ‘concerns’ of southern Germany played off against the Reich, and the democratic coalition celebrated abroad for being a wall against ‘nationalism’ and a beneficial organization for the collection of tribute.
Today the internal borders of the Länder have been stripped of any real significance. That which Bismarck was unable to accomplish is now underway. But if this is to prove lasting and effective, then the remaining barriers among the Volk must also disappear. Walls between victors and vanquished should not be erected in place of the barriers of party and province, and hostile feelings should not be fostered.
In Bismarck’s Reich, a lack of understanding and a distrust of the independent impulses and invaluable professional organizations of the then-nascent industrial working-class alienated the latter from the Reich and brought them into a fruitless – because negative – alliance with political Catholicism and commercial liberalism. In Weimar this coalition took the helm. It was destined to fail, because no positive common will held it together. It was neither restorative-reactionary nor socialist-revolutionary; and so its constitution (no matter how much good will individuals might place in it) remained only the codified coma of the nation, and the Republic was, as Victor Cousin said of the first French Revolution, – “not a form of government, but a crisis.” No ideal was sparked, every fanatical will was derided as being foolish (very liberal-bourgeois), people no longer saw clear warning-signs upon the wall; and the more ‘experienced’ the politician, the more he allowed himself to be surprised by the overwhelmingly fanatical will of the emerging modern forces.
Today there is no longer any doubt that we are not experiencing a simple Reaction, but the overthrow of an old order – an order to which the class-based, industrial-worker-directed socialism of the pre-War era was and is oriented.
The National Revolution is often equated with the overthrow of Marxism and with the class struggle. Of course, the industrial laborer neither created nor invented ‘class’, but he did orient himself and his struggle towards the class structure of the bourgeois state. He and his intellectual world are thus burdened with the traditions of the declining bourgeois system, even if in his case they also bear a negative omen. He, too, fought on the grounds of the mechanical-democratic parliamentary state – so much so that he could scarcely imagine the possibility of socialist organization beyond the arithmetic of the ballot box. National Socialism in particular he viewed with deep mistrust. One should neither deny nor conceal this. He saw how this movement developed under the conspicuous benevolence of wealthy individuals. He held it to be a socialistically-ornamented nationalism which was to be misused by property-owners in order to smash the existing workers’ movement. Afterwards, he said to himself, neither its nationalism nor its socialism will remain, only a brutal social reaction united with a genuinely capitalist policy of appeasement towards the outside world.
Who would deny that such a ‘utilization’ of the National Socialist movement lay within the plans of influential people of property and education? Aside from a few outsiders who chose to look more deeply into the Islamic power9 of the Hitler movement, who would have guessed that the movement’s will to power would scoff at such a reckoning? Least capable of this was the worker reared in class dialectics, whose conception of the notion of bourgeoisie vs. working-class was so theoretically ingrained that he was conscious neither of the enormous contradiction inherent in a class party being in coalition with industrial- and financial-capital; nor of the fact that the traditional conceptual distinction of ‘bourgeoisie – proletariat’ had long since lost all substance under the revolutionary upheavals of the post-War era; nor that the existence of the middle-class had itself become a proletariat of inflation and reparations, that the mass of students too bore the stamp of poverty upon their brows, and that below the ‘working-class’ a new strata [Stand] of true hopelessness had formed – the million-strong army of the unemployed.
Thus the social question ceased to be exclusively a question of the industrial wage-laborer. The nation itself became the ‘proletarian class’, confronted with only a few tens of thousands of beneficiaries of the capitalist system. The social struggle has become the ‘awakening of the nation’ for the collective reshaping of every basis of existence. The division of estates and social classes into politically hostile camps remains the final pillar of the bourgeois-capitalist system.
The new state has eliminated party barriers and provincial borders, and the power-political consolidation of the nation has largely been fulfilled. Its moral coordination is the next challenge. With respect to the situation in Germany, this task must appear sufficiently urgent.
The worker, who has watched the significance of his parliamentary representation dwindle away (even before Hitler – think of the Brüning era!), finds his strongest collective existence in the self-established professional organizations.10 These too have not remained unaffected by the recent transition. Not infrequently they have been made to pay for their association with political party-life – something which arose at a time when the struggle for the interests of the workers had to take place, for the most part, within the party-political arena. If one looks back into the past then they will not find this political affiliation surprising; rather, they are much more likely to marvel over the fact that the trade-union movement, in spite of the temporarily crucial importance of the party system, nonetheless carved its own path and acquired its own distinctive character untroubled by the ideologies which the political movement later ended up debating to death and tearing itself to pieces over. In the interests of popular morality and national cohesion, it is thus more necessary than ever that this should be taken into account. And the responsible organs of government should as seldom as is possible interpret and treat attacks and assaults made upon trade-unionists and labor institutions as being forgivable side-effects of the revolution.11
Even humiliating demands or impositions, regardless of their nature, can only have the opposite effect to that which the government has so far accomplished in other areas with its performance towards the forging together of the nation. The workers’ organizations are by their very nature and their role something different to factional or provincial particularism. Their values are national in the truest sense. What they have accomplished through their professional organization, their educational training, and their reconstructive work, and what they represent through their day-to-day activities, are the heritage and wealth of the Volk in the broadest possible sense. Their severance of their traditional factional ties will become all the more comprehensible to the worker once the government clearly demonstrates in the socio-economic sphere, as it has so far in the state-political sphere, that its new state forms will be infused not with the substance of capitalist Reaction but with a new national and social life in which “capital has to serve the economy, and the economy has to serve the Volk.”12 Nine months ago, the cynical jest that the future form of government would be “IG Germany”13 could still be heard in circles of ‘economists’. In its reaction against such a conception of the German Volk’s purpose in life, the government will find an ally in the trade-union worker.
Lastly, with respect to all propagandistic meddling in the German revolution coming from outside our borders, for example in the name of democracy or even in “defense against the fascist threat of war”:
The fourteen years’ worth of indignities imposed upon the Weimar Republic and its democratic governing parties in the name of the Versailles Treaty have defiled the very word ‘democracy’ within this country to an unspeakable extent, and have helped conflate the Republic with the executive body of the Versailles order. Over the past few years the author of these lines has pointed this fact out to hundreds of foreign visitors of every tongue, and has left no doubt that the end of this development would result in the final victory of the national uprising – against which, after the Volk having been brought to the brink of despair by democratic means, the cry of the “fascist threat of war” will be raised, even while Germany is at every moment demanding nothing more from its surroundings than the right to life, freedom, and security for its national existence. In the same vein, and in order to demonstrate how little German ‘nationalism’ has in common with the slavering for revenge, the foremost leader of the free trade-unions, Leipart, stated two years ago as a guest of a trade-union congress in Paris: “It took thirteen years of oppression and external invasion to transform a small party-group into the great, million-strong movement that is the Hitler party.” Much faster than most expected, this party has in the meantime become the bearer of the authority of the German state. How its relationship with the German workers’ movement will be shaped lies almost entirely within its own hands. We do not believe we are mistaken about its relation to other nations when we assume that it, like us, avows the words once spoken by Victor Hugo: “What we demand of the future is not revenge, but justice.”
1. Franz Joseph Furtwängler (b.1894 – d.1965) was a member of the executive leadership board of the General German Trade-Union Federation (Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, ADGB) and served as its foreign secretary, acting as the ADGB’s chief representative at international trade-union events and as the liaison for visits by foreign labour delegates. Furtwängler was a long-time Social-Democrat, having joined the Social-Democratic Party and the trade-union movement before the First World War. He became a member of the ADGB in 1922 and was swiftly elevated into its leadership, coming to be regarded as the “right-hand man” of chairman Theodor Leipart. Initially a far-leftist at the start of his career, by the 1930s Furtwängler had moved rightwards to such an extent that he was one of the key leaders of the ADGB’s significant neorevisionist (i.e. nationalist-socialist) faction. He maintained correspondence and social ties with a variety of figures in national-revolutionary circles, including Count Ernst von Reventlow (a leader within the NSDAP’s left faction), Friedrich Hielscher and Hans Zehrer (conservative-revolutionary intellectuals), Karl Haushofer (a prominent nationalist-leaning academic), and Ernst von Salomon and Hartmut Plaas (convicted former terrorists), and when the ADGB began negotiating with the Papen government in August 1932 Furtwängler also helped it network with ‘productive’ elements in the nationalist camp, such as Otto Strasser.
Despite his reservations (even fears) towards National Socialism and the end of Weimar democracy, Furtwängler in 1933 – like other members of Social-Democracy’s neorevisionist faction – saw in the Hitler government a potential opportunity to reorient the workers’ movement around the German nation and to establish a productive national-corporatist order in which the unions would be protected by becoming a state or quasi-state entity. Nonetheless, Furtwängler was unable to avoid being taken into “protective custody” in May 1933 along with a number of other union officials. After being imprisoned for three months he left for exile in Hungary, eventually returning to Germany in 1938. Back in Germany, Furtwängler was initially employed by the Berlin Institute for Economic Research, then took on a job with the state Foreign Office, where his reputation as an expert on India saw him represent the government abroad. During this period Furtwängler was also actively involved in anti-NS resistance circles, and he was forced to go underground following the failed July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler in order to avoid being arrested. Furtwängler managed to survive the collapse of the Third Reich and maintained a successful career as an SPD politician in Hesse after WWII, although he encountered animosity within the post-War union movement as a consequence of his earlier activities and reputation.
2. A reference to the “Querfront” strategy of Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher, in which Schleicher sought to overcome Germany’s political instability by establishing an authoritarian regime built not upon the support of the Reichstag, but on a broad, ‘cross-front’ coalition made up of the Reichswehr, the ADGB, right-wing Social-Democrats, and the NSDAP. Although these plans were tentative and never went anywhere productive, they were genuine; Schleicher met personally with Gregor Strasser, and also (separately) with ADGB leaders Theodor Leipart, Wilhelm Eggert, and Peter Graßmann, in pursuit of them. Walter Pahl, an ADGB official and a neorevisionist Social-Democrat, briefly describes this period in his 1934 book Deutschland wohin? (published under the pseudonym ‘Lothar Frei’):
Since the Papen period, the trade-unions had been attempting to free themselves completely from party ties, which in any case in recent years had grown weaker and weaker. Legends and hopes surrounding Schleicher’s ‘social general’ reputation finally coalesced into the ideal of a trade-union cabinet under Schleicher’s leadership. “Soldiers and workers,” the old slogan of the revolutionary days of 1918, reappeared. But before Schleicher’s ‘openness’ towards the trade-unions and his desire for social detente could lead to any significant results, one was faced with the reality of Hitler’s cabinet…
3. Ludwig Kaas (b.1881 – d.1952) was a Catholic theologian and the factional chairman for the Centre Party within the German Reichstag from 1928-33. Kaas was a forceful advocate within his party in favor of the Hitler government’s Enabling Act, which gave full legislative powers to the cabinet (and specifically to the German Chancellor). Hitler needed the votes of the Centre Party especially to ensure that the Act was passed with a full two-thirds majority in the Reichstag. Kaas’s support was thus instrumental in bringing a formal end to multi-party representative democracy within Germany; Furtwängler alludes to this later in his article.
4. “Ideological parties” – in German, “Gesinnungsparteien.” A more literal translation would be “parties of sentiment” or “attitude parties” (sometimes the term is translated simply as “political parties”). In German, a Gesinnungspartei typically indicates a party which represents a very specific ideological worldview or interest-group, as opposed to a Volkspartei (“people’s party”) which aims to build its support across the lines of class, faith, and creed.
5. In 1905 the free trade-unions and the SPD established the Mannheim Agreement, which gave the unions equal standing with the Social-Democratic Party. In 1919 the Nuremburg Resolution was passed, making the ADGB formally independent of the SPD and forbidding the party from interfering in the ADGB’s internal affairs. Despite this, the ADGB and the other free trade-unions (the AfA-Bund and the ADB) were all heavily tied to the Social-Democratic Party in various ways (more than a quarter of the SPD’s Reichstag representatives were union officials, for example) and the ADGB was generally regarded as being a Social-Democratic organization, even after it began distancing itself from the SPD in 1932. In an attempt to demonstrate its role as a neutral arbiter for workers’ interests (as well as its loyalty to the ‘National Government’), the ADGB officially severed its remaining ties with the Social-Democratic Party in late March 1933, emphasizing this in a letter to Hitler and in a declaration issued to members in the Gewerkschafts-Zeitung (25 March 1933, vol.43, no.12):
The trade-unions are the expression of an irrefutable social necessity, an indispensable aspect of the social order itself. The trade-unions came into being as the organized self-help of the working-class, and in the course of their history, for natural reasons, grew closer and closer with the state itself. The social tasks of the trade-unions must be fulfilled, no matter what the state regime is… The trade-unions do not claim to directly influence state policy. Their task in this respect can only be to channel the legitimate wishes of the working-class in relation to the social and economic policy measures of government and legislation, and to serve the government and parliament with their knowledge and their experience in these areas. The trade-unions do not claim a monopoly for themselves. Above the form of their organization is the protection of workers’ interests. But a true trade-union can only be founded upon the voluntary association of its members, and it must be independent of employers as well as of political parties.
6. The “Main-line” (“Mainlinie”) refers to the line of the River Main, which runs across Germany and traditionally separates North and South Germany from one another. Its historical origins as a political divide lay within the old German Confederation, with the Main-line serving as a divide between Austrian and Prussian spheres of influence. Later, after the establishment of the North German Confederation, the line marked the barrier between Prussia and certain South German independent states, which eventually joined with Prussia in 1870 to form the German Empire. Because of this history there were cultural and political differences between the states of North Germany and those of South Germany, with the latter tending to be more spiritually Catholic, more separatist, and oriented more towards Austria than Prussia. Furtwängler’s mention of a “frivolous game” is likely a reference to the attempt by regional, non-NS governments in South German Länder to play up their differences with the north in the lead-up to the March 1933 election, something which did not work out in their favour. The NSDAP received over 40% of the vote in each South German state, a significant majority of ballots cast, and in the election’s aftermath the Reich government began placing enormous pressure upon Länder governments to resign and to give political power over to the NSDAP.
7. A reference to Johann Philipp von Schönborn (b.1605 – d.1673), Prince-Elector of Mainz from 1647 onwards. Schönborn was one of the central figures behind the establishment of the Rhenish League (Rheinischer Bund), a military alliance largely consisting of German imperial princes which was loyal to France and directed against the Holy Roman Emperor. Furtwängler here is drawing a link between this alliance and the later Confederation of the Rhine, a union of German states established by Napoleon after the Holy Roman Empire was forcibly dissolved following French victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Confederation was loathed by later German nationalists, in part because it was essentially a French puppet, and partly also because the borders established for its various constituent states formed the basis for the division of the later German Länder, hence making the Länder a largely foreign imposition which only heightened geographic and political divisions between German citizens.
9. I am unclear what exactly Furtwängler means by “Islamic power” (“die islamische Kraft”); it seems rather unlikely he is under the impression that Hitler and his followers are Moslems. Presumably “Islamic” had specific cultural connotations within Germany at the time, perhaps owing to it being a more ‘exotic’ faith. Possibly the use of the word is an indirect reference to Islam’s opposition to the charging of interest, a feature shared by National Socialist economics.
11. Despite their protestations of loyalty to the National Government in early 1933, this did not prevent the free trade-unions from being the target of attacks or harassment. The occupation of union buildings, the destruction of union property, and physical assaults against labor officials all escalated following the NSDAP’s victory in the March 1933 elections, typically being carried out on a grass-roots basis by members of the SA and SS. Officially these actions were not countenanced by the regime; complaints against them were raised by ADGB functionaries directly to Franz Seldte (Minister of Labour), Alfred Hugenberg (Minister of Economics), and President Hindenburg, and promises were made by the authorities to clamp down upon the attacks. The government ultimately proved unable to reign in the wilder elements among the NSDAP membership, however, and there was an undeniable lack of willingness within some state circles regarding pursuing the matter too vigorously.
12. This quotation is taken directly from Hitler’s speech to the German Reichstag on the occasion of the passage of the Enabling Act, on 23 March 1933. The quote was influential among the functionaries of the ADGB, and was cited frequently within Gewerkschafts-Zeitung articles as a hopeful example of the government’s good economic intentions.