Learning to Love the Third Reich

“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. Furtwängler
1
First published 22 April, 1933 in trade-union journal
Gewerkschafts-Zeitung vol. 43, no.16

I.

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. Continue reading

The Uneven Alliance: German Nationals and the Hitler Government

“Well, that’s revolution…” Complaints and observations from a member of the German National People’s Party about his party’s unequal position in the NSDAP-led ‘National Government’

When Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 January, 1933, it was not as the leader of a uniformly National Socialist regime. The initial Hitler cabinet was instead a coalition government comprising, alongside the more radical NSDAP, the monarchist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), the paramilitary Stahlhelm, and several non-partisan conservative figures such as Franz von Papen and Konstantin von Neurath. The early hopes among Germany’s patriotic circles that this ‘National Government’ augured a new era of equal dominance for the various forces of the political Right were soon dashed, however, particularly after the passage of the Enabling Act. The National Socialists began using their newfound authority to enforce a process of ‘consolidation’ and ‘coordination’ throughout Germany, in which the political apparatus at every level was gradually occupied by NSDAP functionaries while political opponents – including those ostensibly on the same side as the NSDAP – were systematically harassed and oppressed. German Nationals were not spared any of this treatment – DNVP officials found their offices ransacked, their staff persecuted, their meetings broken up, and their middle-class voters jeered at in National Socialist rallies and newspapers. The office of Vice-Chancellor von Papen, seen by many on the Right as a sympathetic figure, was soon flooded with hundreds of alarmed letters from German Nationals and from other conservatives, men and women who had become painfully aware that the new ‘National Government’ would be neither monarchist nor conservative but was instead marching steadily towards a new and troubling political form of National Socialist radicalism. The two documents translated below, written by a certain Dr. Bubenhöfer – a prominent Freudenstadt physician and a member of the Württemberg DNVP’s leadership committee – provide a typical example of the kinds of reports sent to the Vice-Chancellor’s office by concerned German Nationals. The complaints and observations in Bubenhöfer’s letter and accompanying political memorandum help illustrate some of the key ideological differences between the DNVP and the more revolutionary NSDAP: Bubenhöfer’s writing expresses considerable concern about the ‘socialism’ within the NSDAP, about the NSDAP’s tolerance for Germany’s pre-existing welfare state measures, about its deliberate sidelining of other patriotic groups, and about the potential for instability represented by the SA. Interestingly, some of Bubenhöfer’s complaints are a little atypical of the DNVP, which tended to be more ‘moderate’ on most issues than the NSDAP; Bubenhöfer was a member of the DNVP’s völkisch wing, and as well as being perturbed about the NSDAP’s totalitarianism he also complains that it has been far too lenient in its treatment of Marxists, Jews, and “racial inferiors!” What eventually happened to Bubenhöfer is uncertain, but the DNVP soon faced the same fate as most other nationalist organizations – by the end of June 1933 it was pressured to dissolve itself, with many of its members and officials feeling obliged to go over to the NSDAP.

The Uneven Alliance:
Württemberg DNVP Leader Dr. Bubenhöfer’s
April 1933 Letter to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen

Dr. Med. Bubenhöfer
Freudenstadt
Specialist in Surgery & Gynecology
Chief Physician of the District Hospital

Freudenstadt, 11 April, 1933
His Excellency Herr Vice-Chancellor v. Papen
Berlin

Esteemed Herr von Papen!

Might I once again avail myself of the right which you granted me, to be able to write to you?

If, in an hour of leisure, you might read through a short essay which I have recently dictated, as is my custom, and would perhaps write me your opinion on this or that, I would be most grateful. I have lived with all of these issues for many years, they consume me both inside and outside of my job. I have delivered many a lecture on these various topics. Above all, however, I am particularly concerned by issues regarding the assessment of the Centre, the position to take towards the NSDAP, and the topic of eugenics. And I would be grateful for a brief critique from you, whom I consider such a capable critic. There is so much going on right now which we do not like. Well, that’s revolution. My friends and I witness so much which shocks us. I will mention only two things: As I was able to tell you in Stuttgart, I salvaged a national defense organization, with weapons, out of Captain Damm’s old Freischar organization,1 preserving it through all the perils of the Bolz government.2 Today the SA are no longer willing to recognize us; yes, they even go so far as to doubt our national will because we are not National Socialist.

14 years ago, together with a few friends, I founded a German-völkisch order with which we hoped to perform long-term völkisch work with the aim of combating Freemasonry. Today we ourselves are denounced as Freemasons. Well, such things are the phenomena of revolution, but they nonetheless strongly dampen the satisfaction of nationally-minded men in the National Revolution. What the Stahlhelm3 wrote recently, that Hitler might one day be pleased to have them, I had also hoped might some day be said of a National Government about my organization. But the National Socialists do not need us and do not want us. And so I have no other recourse but to dissolve the organization, which is so highly esteemed by all sides – including by Reichswehr Minister von Blomberg – and thus to destroy, at least formally, a camaraderie which has held fast for 11 years of the most difficult times. When as a leader one has to say farewell to thousands of comrades without any apparent discernible need, because now our “friends” are at the helm, this is something which simply has to be endured. And yet we German Nationals, to whom I also belong, are part of the government. One would therefore think that an organization led by a man known throughout the state of Württemberg for his nationalist spirit would be acceptable to any National Government. We were to be in the government, I was told, not the SA leader.4 Continue reading

A ‘National’ Social-Democracy?

A 1931 article on socialism, nationalism, and the nation, by German Social-Democrat Hermann Heller

The tumultuous interwar years in Weimar Germany were characterized by a number of unusual political trends which sought to syncretize competing ideas from both the Left and Right. National Socialism and the Conservative Revolution were the most obvious examples of this ideological synthesis, but there were manifestations of it even on the more democratic end of the political spectrum (the Jungdeutscher Orden) and also among the Communists. The Social-Democrats, despite their internationalism, were also not immune to this phenomenon; the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) too had its own small nationalist current, part of the broader reformist wing of the movement, whose members were particularly active contributors to the ‘revisionist’ journal Sozialistische Monatshefte, as well as to Die Arbeit, the official theoretical publication of the largest trade-union federation. Beginning in January 1930 these ‘neorevisionists’ also began publishing their own monthly: the Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus, which put out articles with such titles as “We and the Young Nationalists” or “The Presence and Significance of Conservative Tendencies in Social-Democracy.” This neorevisionist faction had not sprung up out of nowhere – many of its members had previously been active in the Hofgeismarkreis and the Berliner Kreis, small intellectual circles which had emerged within the SPD youth movement around the time of the 1923 Ruhr crisis, and which had sought then (somewhat controversially) to intellectually ground German Social-Democracy upon a foundation of ‘Nation’ and ‘Volk’ rather than class. Despite these unifying nationalist tendencies, the neorevisionists were in general a diverse and eclectic group, ranging from right-leaning reformists, to religious socialists, to market-socialists, to radicals whose political ideals were only vaguely distinguishable from those of Otto Strasser or Hans Zehrer. Many, curiously, were also actively involved in the leadership of the Iron Front, and most became committed activists in the antifascist resistance after 1933 (although not all – at least one, Walter Pahl, became a supporter of National Socialism, while another, Fritz Borinski, ended up in the orbit of the Black Front). One of the most prominent neorevisionist thinkers was Jewish-German jurist Hermann Heller, who today tends to be more known for his constitutional scholarship than for his socialist theorizing. Heller’s 1925 work Sozialismus und Nation (re-released in a revised edition in 1931) was held in very high regard among neorevisionists, and is probably the most detailed outline of their general, collective worldview. The short article by Heller below, which references this work, is a classic example of this style of Social-Democratic writing, dealing as it does with German socialism’s difficulties in engaging with nationalist sentiment, while also presenting Social-Democracy as the only political force truly capable of safeguarding the German nation.  

National Socialism1
Hermann Heller

First published in Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus, vol. 2, no. 4, April 1931.

Ever since the 30 Years’ War, the national destiny of the German Volk has been consistently and decisively determined by the political incompetence of its bourgeoisie. Even the state-building power of nationalism, as shaped within the bourgeois revolutions, has been incapably utilized by bourgeois politics. Since the failed revolution of 1848, the political idea of a comprehensive national cultural community has been transformed into the narrow and repressed national conception of a Treitschke.2 As recently as 1902, for example, the widely-disseminated work “Was ist national?” by Professor Kirchhoff3 was claiming that one would never be able to commit to including the German-Austrians as part of the modern German nation – the same German nation to which, meanwhile, the Prussian Poles admittedly belonged.

How meagre the sense of national responsibility of the Wilhelmine state’s ruling classes was, was demonstrated most clearly when they organized themselves after the revolution into the “German National” People’s Party, and thus made into a party name what should have been, or what should have become, an appellation for the entire Volk.

As the bourgeoisie muddled up the nation with the Prussian-German state, worshipping it with Hegel as the realization of the moral idea, as God on Earth, so did Marx-Engels now fight against this bourgeoisie with a lopsided, narrow, and repressed conception of state and nation. For them the state was always only the realization of an immoral idea, namely the necessary evil of the class state, which was to vanish with the end of class rule; just as, according to their truly Mancunian perspective, national separations and differences were destined to gradually come to an end with the development of the bourgeoisie, with free trade, the world market, and the uniformity of industrial production. Continue reading

The Nationality-Programme of Austrian Social-Democracy

The nationality-programme of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria: a socialist solution to the ‘national question’?

Upon its founding in Hainfeld in 1889, the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs, SDAPÖ) was faced with challenges which, outside of Russia, were largely unique within the context of European socialist politics. Austria-Hungary was a sprawling multinational land empire, a dual monarchy governing a cosmopolitan blend of different races which had become increasingly dispersed as a by-product of capitalist development and growing industrialization. As a consequence, from the very beginning the SDAPÖ found itself not only dealing with material class issues, but also with the competing demands of different national ethnic groups, and the party soon discovered that abstract appeals to “internationalism” were often not enough to attenuate the ethnic disquiet felt by many workers – whether Germans faced with the threat of “cheap Czech labor” migrating from other parts of the Empire, or non-German minorities who felt discriminated against by the state (and even by the party and the unions). The ‘national question’ proved so divisive for the SDAPÖ that in 1897 it split into six separate (but still theoretically united) Social-Democratic parties, one for each of the major ethnic groups represented within the Austrian state. In 1899, at a Social-Democratic conference in Brünn, the SDAPÖ made an attempt to grapple with the issue directly by drafting a “nationality-programme,” a proposed outline for a future socialist state which the party believed would eliminate national conflicts among the workers while still preserving Austria as a unified, independent entity. The Brünn proposal (a “democratic state federation of nationalities”), and much of the theory which developed out of it in the following years, would subsequently become one of the defining characteristics of “Austromarxism,” that unique form of Social-Democracy which developed within Austria as a consequence of the country’s particular political idiosyncrasies. In order to explore the nationality-programme and some of the critical reactions to it from the broader socialist movement, I have reproduced a number of documents below. The first is a brief account from a historical work providing some background and context to the programme. The second is the translated text of the nationality-programme itself, taken from an SDAPÖ publication. The final three pieces are extracts, critiques of the programme from three different sources: one from Otto Bauer, representing an internal critique (the Austromarxist view); one from Joseph Stalin, representing the Bolshevist perspective; and one from Alois Ciller, representing the National Socialist outlook. Each of these three men had some connection to the Austrian proposal, whether through background or expertise, and each had his own independent interpretation of the programme’s efficacy and its potential impact upon socialist theory and socialist activism.

Nationalism Among the Workers:
The Historical Context Behind the Social-Democratic Nationality-Programme
From historian Andrew G. Whiteside’s “Austrian National Socialism Before 1918” (1962)

Andrew G. Whiteside’s book constitutes an exploration of the conditions which gave rise to the German-völkisch National Socialist movement, whose origins lay within Austria-Hungary (particularly the Sudetenland) and which was already an established, active political force there before Hitler joined the Bavarian German Workers’ Party in 1919. The short extract below, taken from the chapter “Nationalism Among the Workers,” provides some of the historical context surrounding the drafting of the Brünn nationality-programme. It briefly outlines the impact which inter-ethnic worker conflicts had upon the SDAPÖ; the difficulties Social-Democratic leaders experienced in trying to reconcile Austrian conditions with the theory of internationalism; how these conditions helped give rise to the idea of a federation of nationalities; and, finally, how in the end the party’s strategy could still not prevent a complete splitting of the SDAPÖ along racial lines. – Bogumil

The Austrian Social-Democratic Party during these years [the 1890s to early 1900s] was beset by difficulties that did not exist for Socialists in most of the other countries of Europe. Its basic doctrine of proletarian solidarity and the irrelevance of nationality was refuted by the division between Czech and German workers. As a liberating force it had to admit a man’s right to be educated and to do his work in his native tongue. At the same time many of its leaders – Adler, Kautsky, Pernerstorfer, Renner, Bauer, Seliger, Ellenbogen, and others – were firmly convinced that the international labor movement should be directed by men with German brains and character. Like Marx and Engels they distrusted Slavs. Friedrich Stampfer, a spokesman for the betont deutsch1 wing of Austrian Social-Democracy, writing in the Leipziger Volkszeitung, actually opposed political democracy because it would mean handing over the country to Slavs and clericals. Viktor Adler, complaining to Liebknecht about the spread of nationality madness, declared that it was based chiefly on envy, misunderstanding, and irrationality. Otto Bauer, defending the Viennese German leadership, said that the success of the Socialist movement required empire-wide international unions with unified finances, administration, and policy; the Czechs, by stubbornly insisting on autonomy, were failing to show the “the necessary discipline of the minority” and were sabotaging the whole labor movement. Bauer was in the dilemma of all dedicated Austrian Socialists, torn between his belief in the special role of the Germans in advancing Socialism and his sympathy with the Czechs’ desire for national equality. Continue reading