Thursday, December 08, 2005
When discussing National Socialism and the German working class; there's no room for romantic accounts of history, its not about matters of myth or dead heroes alive again in effigy. One thing is clear; a class which had consistently risen throughout Germany in the wave of revolution between 1918 and 1923 failed to produce one large scale strike similar to those that broke out in Turin in 1943 under Mussolini, no peppering of exemplary acts against state agents co-ordinated by a revolutionary underground such as those in Russia under the Tsar, that there was no large scale sabotages of armaments plants or no out breaks of rioting against Storm trooper patrols in working class communities throughout twelve years of a regime which facilitated the most brutal repression against working class people leaves us with many complex questions but only one clear answer. With a secret police producing nearly 1,000 arrests of workers per week; it is clear that with all the vehement hatred contained in National Socialism, it could identify its potentially most dangerous enemy as the German working class itself.
There are four complex but interweaving strands which facilitated the solidification of the National Socialist regime between January 1933 and June 1934. The central locomotive driving the discussion of these four themes are the containment and neutralisation of the working class by National Socialism. The methods employed ranged from attempts to buy off the class through refusing to launch the aggressive attack on wages expected by business and maintaining and extending elements of the social welfare system which had become a feature of Weimar which riled capital with its fear of a 'trade union economy' to out right terroristic repression.
Haunted by the memory of 1918 and the general strike which brought the Kapp Putsch to it's knees National Socialism saw itself foaming at the mouth with impatience to smash the traditional socio-cultural structures of working class solidarity when it came to power in January 1933. The destruction of the working class's overt political structures; as they manifested themselves in both offensive forms as reformist and revolutionary political tendencies and in the defensive organs of the trade union movement proved an immediate agenda of National Socialism under Hitler as it strove to solidify power. The Reichstag fire attributed to the Dutch Communist Van Der Lubbe can be understood as a strategy of tension orchestrated by the SS, Goering was later to boast of it. A ploy similar in many ways to that used in Italy in the late seventies and again finding expression in the media hype surrounding the recent supposed anarchist letter bombings directed at Prodi. That is a pretext for creating an atmosphere of political upheaval and tension which serves to generate, justify and flame repression against those it is claimed is creating the disorder. A parallel can be seen in the myths of a massacre of 70 policemen in Lichtenberg, which fanned FreiCorp's repression in the wake of the March 4th, 1919 General Strike, resulting in 1,500- 2,000 deaths. The ushering in of the 'Emergency Decree for the Protection of the People and The State' saw the swift banning of the Communist Party and arbitrary attacks on the workers' movement by police and SA.
Later in the year the regime in a typical attempt to assimilate elements of working class culture declared May 1st a holiday and oversaw huge labour demonstrations, the official organ of the German TUC, Gewerhschaftszeitung, published an article for its May Day edition naively assuming that they 'certainly need not strike our colours in order to recognise that the victory of National Socialism, though won in struggle against (the Social Democrats)...is our victory as well.' In his dairy Goebbels wrote: 'Tomorrow we will occupy the trade union buildings. There will be little resistance'. He was right, the oldest workers' movement in the world was smashed and on June 22nd the Social Democrats too found themselves removed from the political equation. Deprived of its traditional armoury of resistance and opposition in the structures the working class had fostered; militants were forced to operate in an illegality which bore no resemblance to that expected for the regime was to go all out and attempt whole scale restructurings of the working class environment and a taming of the power of national socialist labour organisations.
With this elimination of organised political opposition came a restructuring of industrial relations along National Socialist lines which while not eliminating struggle at the coal face of the class struggle, sought to inoculate ideas of the Gemeinschaft (National Community) into the class which created a façade which theoretically at least neutralised ideas of class conflict in industry. Organising industry along lines outlined in the Arbeitsordnungsgesetz (AOG) enacted on January 20th 1934. The AOG defined the workplace as
Betreibsgemeinschaft, the smallest element in the wider national community, with a feudal relationship between boss and worker promoting a non material bond of loyalty midst capitalist modes of production. Schwenger, one of the architects of Nazi industrial policy described its aims 'to pacify the workforce, eliminate disputes, remove the objective grounds for social tension...to foster national ideas and to reject class conflict.' (1) The AOG plays a key role in highlighting the regimes attitude to the working class and its attempts to solidify power. Through the act the regime attempted a fundamental restructuring of attitudes to work. Hitler described how there as no need to socialise industry when one could socialise people, Robert Ley the head of the Nazi Labour Movement expanded in describing how 'we must all share in the workplace where we are employed. Share in every stone, every machine, everything. Yes, my friend; of you work there, it belongs to you! In law it may be the property of another, but that means nothing.' (2) The removal of traditional working class modes of representation saw an inability to channel opposition, the ground previously occupied by the trade union movement became occupied by the national socialist Deutsch Arbeitsfont (DAF) with a system of elected Councils of Trust which were theoretically to play an advisory role in the new industrial landscape. A process of breaking down relationships between the class was initiated through greater individualisation through Taylorism and with the advent of competitions like National Vocational Competition which sought to introduce the national socialist organising priniciple of competition among workers as a means to break up traditional notions of solidarity which had provided the backbone of the union movement. Mason uses an example of a mural from the 1934 Berlin Exhibition 'German People- German Labour which attempted to illustrate the AOG, featuring labourers and crafts men working in harmony building a small housing estate undisturbed by class tension or the noise of modern industry.
The AOG offered 'Strength Through Joy' holidays and leisure pursuits organised by firms and the state. However along with these leisure outlets it also offered the Arbeitserziehungslager, concentration camps attached to larger plants which when viewed alongside the Strength Through Joy iniatives can read as something of a signifier for the regimes attitudes to the working class; terror mixed with a willingness to give in to demands and seek a buying off of the working class. The fear of hunger unrests of 1918 saw the regime attempt to maximise supplies by using up foreign exchange which had been set aside for rearmament in the pre-war period, and as Mason suggests added an internal dynamic to the aggressive expansionism of '38-39; using plunder from Poland to satiate demand at home. The encouragement of geographic and industrial mobility has also been seen as partially contributing to the break up of 'red' neighbourhoods which held the potential for providing support for organised movements of workers opposition and resistance. Having eliminated political expression by the class, the Regime went one step further and attempted to reconstitute the class itself, eliminating the dangerous class contradiction of the old working class by socially dispersing it and wiping it out theoretically as a class.
The success of the elimination of a left opposition and resistance to the regime, then opened up the way to an elimination of a potential left opposition within the National Socialist movement itself as represented by the destruction of the Rohm/Strasser tendency of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and their rhetoric of a 'second revolution' in the so called Knight of the Long Knives. The SA was socially constituted by the petit bourgeoisie and declassed elements from the years of unemployment; it provided the backbone of the National Socialist Movement and had proved an essential component in the outright attacks by the regime between March and June 1934. Historians like Reich and Rohm locate the violence of nazism as rooted in the authoritarian socialisation of middle class childhoods while this may certainly be true, the existence of the SA as a descendent of the FreiCrops which crushed strikes throughout the upheavals of the early Weimar gives testament to its function within the broader spectrum of National Socialism. The anarchist Daniel Guerin gives an eyewitness account of a Nazi Stormtrooper rally in Leipzig in 1933, quoting the ranting demagogue describing how 'we have now but one enemy to vanquish; the bourgeoise. To bad for it if it doesn't want to give in, if it doesn't want to understand.' (3) The Rohm/Strasser tendency of the SA represented an economic left wing of national socialism which took serious the movements promises to end the burden of interest, rent slavery and to nationalise industry. Rhetoric it may have been, but as Nazi Gauleiter Krebs reported that 'any attack on capitalism and plutocracy found the strongest echo among the local functionaries with their middle class origin.’ (4)
Speer mentions something similar in his memoirs, the sole owner of a car in his section 'the other members only expected to have a one after the 'revolution' they dreamed of took place. By way of preparation they were finding out where in the rich suburb the right cars were available for X Day. (5) The SA had provoked tensions along class lines within the movement in the past. In august 1930, Eastern SA units revolted, under the leadership of Walther Stennes. Reasons included payment and problems with the gauleiters and the growing influence of the rival SS. A group in Berlin even attacked Joseph Goebbels offices and beat up the SS men who stood guard. In February 193, Stennes wrote in a letter to Röhm "it is much more important to undertake measures to relieve the economic position of the SA. In Berlin there are regiments containing 67% unemployed. In Breslau a company could not turn out for inspection ... in frost and snow - because it completely lacked footwear". In a speech on 17 June, Franz Non Papen, a centre party renegade and Hitler's Vice Chancellor echoed the sentiment of much of the upper bourgeoisie and capital towards the wave of violence and extra-legal rule by force carried out by an organisation which while existing officially outside the state structure now seemed to share its monopoly of violecnce describing how 'no nation can live in a state of permanent revolution from below...terroristic methods in the field of law.' (6) And it was that Hitler had his 'comrades' in the leadership of the SA liquidated in the Night of the Long Knives. This liquidation of the anti-capitalist elements within National Socialism can be read as a parallel to Mussolini's Concord with the Vatican, that is the Rohm Putsch represented a compact and reapprocahment with capital, the SA's purpose having been served in the wiping out of the labour movement.
While the regime occupied the territories previously occupied by the organs of the working class within industry, and deprived it of political space; another important element which must be discussed and is often underestimated when one speaks of a neutralisation of the working class in the Third Reich is the regimes clear identification of the need to occupy the ground previously held by working class movements within their social and cultural milieus. This was one aspect which both communist and socialist groups did not consider in their preparations for illegality; where they previously could fallback on organic structures of support within communities, now they couldn't. Peukart describes how 'the attempt to nationalise society led to the atomisation of the power structure.' (7) Germany under Hitler saw the intrusion of the state into the various cultural and social milieus of the working class. One of the more interesting campaigns of resistance launched by the KPD (German Communist Party) prior to Januray 1933 was the so-called Kneipe-kampagne, that is the struggle for territorial control of taverns which were been used by the SA to gain a foot hold in working class areas.
This physical occupation of a nodal point of working class life by National Socialism broadens with the regimes solidification of power into the introduction of national socialist based organisations (Strength through Joy etc) to usurp the traditional roles of working class voluntary organisations and associations which organised leisure activities and facilitated mutual aid in working class communities. Part of an overall process of creating a dependence at once on the regime and of neutralising ability or tendencies towards the formation of independent cultural and social outlets; which could theoretically have provided the basis of a workers' resistance to Nazism. This was the recognition that the environments that facilitated working class traditions of struggle and solidarity were as much of a threat to the regime as the more overt and official organs of the class's representation that grew out of them. The increasing individualisation in the factories was compounded by an alienation of the community. As one diary entry states 'And the world? The best thing is to shut your eyes to it and to stop hearing and seeing all the dreadful fuse and bother.' (8) As one report by the underground SPD stated 'the essence of fascist control of the masses is compulsory organisation on the one hand and atomisation on the other.'
Yet, a photo of a National Socialist May Day Celebration in Penzberg in Upper Bavaria, Nazi ranks gathered at the back and miners up front, a mass of straight arm salutes and a scattering of clenched fists attesting to two strands which seem to define working class experience under National Socialism; mobilisation and refusal. (9) Horkheimer, the former director of the Frankfurt Institute, used to say "If you don't want to talk about capitalism, then don't talk about Nazism." As the dynamics of capitalism continued to reproduce itself in industry, so too did the dynamics of working class existence breed and necessitate non-traditional modes of resistance to the regime. As Robert Ley, head of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront stated 'the only people who still have a private life in Germany are those who are asleep'; so it is not odd for us to characterise even the simple refusal to cook an Eintopf as opposition; as it was a rescinding of an expected form of consent in the private sphere which became an area in which the class was increasingly forced into retreat from its submission in the public sphere. The KPD's strategy of agitation for mass revolutionary action defined in its slogan of 'after Hitler, us' combined with its attempt to impose a form of centralised organisation developed for struggle under a wholly different context led to devastating setbacks for the resistance.
However new generations of anti-fascists emerged with no memory of the struggles before 1933, some of these such as the Edelweiss Pirates and Meuten groups of anti-authoritarian youths who rejected the culture of the Hitler Youth would become politicised by the occupation of the working class milieu and declare 'eternal war on the Hitler Youth', organising attacks on National Socialist Patrols and engaging in armed attacks on the Gestapo. In industry, a labour shortage of one million people created new opportunities for working class resistance in the forms of go-slows and mass absenteeism. The nature of resistance may have changed, but the battle field remained the same.
National Socialism then essentially solidified its grip on power through the destruction of the political space of the working class in its defensive and offensive organs, by a restructuring of industrial relations along National Socialist lines and attempts to buy off the class through maintenance of wages and increases in living standards. The regime also saw a need for a rapprochement with capital and the middle classes which necessitated the elimination of anti-Bourgeoisie sentiment within National Socialism Itself. Finally the regime sought to occupy the cultural and social space of the working class depriving it of the ability to self organise and hence any nodal points for the growth of resistance through a proliferation of its own organisations.
1 Quoted in Mason, Timothy. Ed. Jane Caplan. Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class; Essays By Tim Mason. (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
2 Quoted in Mason, Timothy. Ed. Jane Caplan. Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class; Essays By Tim Mason. (Cambridge University Press, 1996) P80
3 Guerin, Daniel. The Brown Plague. Travels in Late Weimar and Early Nazi Germany. (Duke University Press, 1994) P120-122.
4 Hamerquist, Don, Sakai, J, Anti Racist Action Chicago, Mark Salotte. Confronting Fascism; Discussions For A Militant Movement. Kersplebedeb, ARA Chicago, Arsenal Magazine, 2002) P109
5 Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. (Macmillian, New York, 1970) P52
6 Hohne, Heinz. The Order of the Death's Head; The Story of the SS. (Martin Secker and Warburg LTD, 1969)
7 Peukart, Detlev JK. Trans. Richard Deveson. Inside Nazi Germany; Conformity, Opposition and Racism in Everyday Life. (B.T. Batsford LTD, London, 1987) P144
8 Peukart, Detlev JK. Trans. Richard Deveson. Inside Nazi Germany; Conformity, Opposition and Racism in Everyday Life. (B.T. Batsford LTD, London, 1987) P79
9 This image can be found on page three of the illustrations in Peukart, Detlev JK. Trans. Richard Deveson. Inside Nazi Germany; Conformity, Opposition and Racism in Everyday Life. (B.T. Batsford LTD, London, 1987)
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