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