Posts Tagged ‘Bremen’

Noakes and Pridham on the Middle Class Precursors of Nazism

March 13, 2019

As well as discussing and documenting the history of Nazism, Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham in their book Nazism 1919-1945: 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934 (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) also discuss the precursors of the Nazis from the late 19th century to the time of the First World War.

They state that radical nationalism first arose amongst the German middle class, who resented their political exclusion by the aristocracy and who felt that the dominance of the aristocracy had weakened Germany through alienating the German working class. This radical right was organized outside parliament in Leagues, such as the Pan-Germans. These middle class radicals rejected the liberal attitudes of patriotism, tolerance and humanity of their fathers, especially when it came to ‘enemies of the Reich’. Noakes and Pridham write

This ‘new Right’ – like its French counterpart – developed outside the political parties in pressure group-type organisations known as ‘leagues’ – the Pan-German League, the Navy League, etc. Its ideology reflected the ideas and political aspirations of the middle-class generation which had grown up in the immediate aftermath of German unification and came to maturity in the 1890s and 1900s. These men had discarded the remnants of the enlightened 1848 Liberalism of their fathers and grandfathers. According to Heinrich Class, who became chairman of the Pan-German League, three ideals had characterized the liberalism of his father’s generation: ‘patriotism, tolerance, humanity’. However, ‘we youngsters had moved on: we were nationalist pure and simple. We wanted nothing to do with tolerance if it sheltered the enemies of the Volk and the state. Humanity in the sense of that liberal idea we spurned, for our Volk was bound to come off worse.’ For men like Class the fortunes of the new German state had acquired paramount importance: their own self-esteem came to be bound up with the prestige of the new Reich.

The populist flavour of this new nationalism derived from their sense of exclusion from the traditional Prusso-German establishment. As successful businessmen, professionals and bureaucrats who had benefited from the rapid economic development following unification, they resented the patronizing attitudes of the traditional elites who tended to regard them as parvenus. Moreover, they felt that the elitist nature of the political establishment weakened Germany by alienating the masses, encouraging the growth of class spirit and dividing the nation. In their view, this fragmentation of the nation was also encouraged by the existing political system of parliamentary and party government. This, it was felt, simply reinforced the divisions between Germans and led to the sacrifice of national interests for the benefit of sectional advantage. They rejected the idea central to liberal democracy that the national interest could only emerge out of the free interplay of differing interests and groups. Instead, they proclaimed a mythical concept of the Volk – an equivalent to the pays reel of pre-1914 French nationalism – as the real source of legitimacy and claimed that current political institutions (the Reichstag, parties etc.) were distorting the true expression of national will. In their view, the key to uniting the nation was the indoctrination of an ideology of extreme nationalism: above all, the goal of imperial expansion would rally and united the nation. (pp.4-5).

They also state that these volkisch nationalists believed that Germany was under threat by the ‘golden international’ of high finance and western liberalism, controlled by the Jews, the ‘black international’ of Roman Catholicism and the ‘red international’ of socialism. Thus there was a foreign threat behind their domestic opponents the left Liberals, Catholic Centre Party and the Social Democrats, and so considered these parties guilty of treason. (p.5). The radical right became increasingly influential in the years before the outbreak of the First World War as a reaction to the rise of the German socialist party, the Social Democrats, which became the largest single party in the Reichstag in the 1912 election. The government appeared too willing to compromise with the moderate left, and so the traditional German Conservatives began to join forces with the radicals. (p.5).

They state, however, that it was during the War that this new Right really gained influence through demands for a victorious peace’ that would give Germany foreign colonies and stave off further demands for increasing democracy in Germany. This saw new political parties founded by the industrialists to obtain this goal. They write

It was, however, during the course of the First World War that this new Right seized the initiative. The main focus of their efforts was a campaign to commit the Government to a so-called Siegfrieden in which Germany would use her expected victory to demand large-scale territorial annexations in both East and West in the form of overseas colonies. This was regarded as vital not simply in order to re-establish Germany as a world power, but also as a means of diverting pressure for democratic reform at home. As the pressure for a compromise peace and for constitutional reform increased after 1916, the Right responded with even more vigorous agitation. The main emphasis of this campaign was on trying to reach a mass audience. On 24 September 1917, in a direct response to the Reichstag peace Resolution of 17 July, a new party was founded – the Fatherland Party. Financed by heavy industry, and organized by the Pan-German League and similar bodies, its aim was to mobilise mass support for a Siegfrieden and to resist moves towards parliamentary democracy. The party soon acquired over a million members, mainly among the middle class.

The Pan-Germans were, however, particularly anxious to reach the working class. Already, in the summer of 1917, a ‘Free Committee for a German Workers’ Peace’ had been established in Bremen by the leader of a ‘yellow’ i.e. pro-employer workers’ association in the Krupp dockyards, which carried out imperialist propaganda supported by the army authorities. Among its 290,000 members was a skilled worker in the railway workshops in Munich named Anton Drexler, who established a Munich branch of the organization on 7 March 1918 and who soon was to become a co-founder of the Nazi party. (pp.5-6, my emphasis).

They go on to say that this party was originally very limited, with only forty members, and so the Pan-Germans were forced to try more effective propaganda themes, such as outright anti-Semitism. (p.6).

It’s thus very clear from this that Nazism definitely was not a genuinely socialist party. It has its origins in the radical, anti-parliamentary nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th century middle class. Its immediate parent organization was a fake worker’s movement set up by Germany industry and supported by the army. This contradicts the allegation by modern Conservatives, like the Republicans in America and the Tories over here, that the Nazis were a socialist party.

However, the ‘Free Committee for a Workers’ Peace’ does sound like something founded by the Tories, when they were declaring themselves to be the true party for working people two years ago. Or the creation of Tony Blair, when he was still in charge of the Labour party, and determined to reject any real socialism and ignore the wishes of genuine Labour members and supporters in order to gain funding from industry and votes from the middle classes, who would otherwise vote Tory. And who very definitely supported imperialist wars, although they were camouflaged behind rhetoric about freeing Iraq and giving its people democracy.

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The German Workers Who Struck For Peace

March 29, 2014

German War Corpse

Corpse of German trooper outside his dugout: a vivid image of the horrific carnage experienced by all the combatants in the ‘War to End All Wars’.

This year is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. The BBC has already commemorating this by putting on numerous documentaries about the Great War, setting up on-line resources for schools so you can see what your particular bit of the country was like and did at the time. they’re also running trailers for forthcoming dramas where idealistic young nurses meet handsome soldiers in a saga of love amid the mass slaughter of the War. Documentaries about the World Wars are a staple of British television anyway. Dan Snow on the One Show has appeared several times striding across a World War I battlefield, while a few years ago Tony Robinson presented a Time Team special on the excavation of a system of WWI trenches in Flanders. Some of the coverage has already proven somewhat controversial. There was some comment a few weeks ago on television that something the BBC broadcast had provoked a complaint from the German embassy. There’s a difference of opinion here between German historians and the rest of the world. Most other nations see the War as being caused by Germany. German historians, on the other hand, believe that no single nation is to blame and that the growth of international tension and the web of alliances with which each nation surrounded itself led inexorably to the War. I really don’t know anything beyond the most general outline of events surrounding the First World War, and so leave it to people much better informed than I do to explain it.

One immediate result of the War was the break-up of international socialism. Previously the European Socialist parties had opposed working class involvement in any conflict between the European nations. For them, it would be a fratricidal conflict, as the working classes in each country had more in common with each other than with their rulers. The war would be a bourgeois war, started by the European ruling classes for their own further profit and enrichment, with the working class troops solely the exploited means by which they sought to do so. When the War finally broke out, however, the Socialist parties all over Europe joined the other parties in backing their governments.

Karl Kautsky, the head of the German Social Democrats, modified his party’s view of the conflict. He considered that Socialists in each country should now see the war only as defending their homelands. They should also campaign for a just peace, which would maintain the integrity of the defeated nations and avoid any cause for resentment on their part. This would prevent any further War from breaking out. He wrote

Further, the Social Democracy in every nation is obliged to consider the war only as a war of defence, and to set as its goal only defending itself against the enemy, not of ‘punishing’ or belittling the enemy. As this conception seeks the causes of the war not in the personal depravity or inferiority of the opponent, but in objective conditions, it will strive for the security which they conclusion of peace brings not by humiliating or mutilating its opponent, which would only cause new wars in the future, but by replacing those condition which led to the war – that is, imperialist conflicts and the armaments race.

Patrick Goode, ed. and trans., Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (London: Macmillan Press 1983) 95.

It’s a pity that the Allies did not follow this advice when imposing the reparations and conditions on Germany afterwards. This could have removed some of the feelings of humiliation and resentment felt in Germany, feelings on which the Nazi preyed and used in their campaign to seize power.

Some Socialist parties continued to campaign against the War, such as the Bolsheviks in Russia, and the USPD – the Independent Social Democratic Party in Germany. One of those who campaigned against the War was the radical deputy, Karl Liebknecht, who went on to found the Spartacist League and the German Communist Party. There were also a number of strikes in Germany against the War. When Liebknecht was tried by a court martial for treason on the 28th June 1916, 55,000 workers went on strike in solidarity.

In April 1917 there was a much larger strike due to the government cutting the bread ration by a quarter. In Leipzig, the striking workers demanded in addition to the removal of their economic grievances the introduction of a direct, general and equal franchise, the removal of the state of siege, lifting of censorship, the release of all political prisoners, the re-instatement of the right to strike and hold political meetings. the government was also to make a declaration in favour of immediate peace without annexations.

On the 28th January 1918 a further mass strike broke out. In Berlin alone 200,000 workers downed tools and elected an action committee consisting of eleven Revolutionary Shop Stewards from The Turners’ union, and three delegates each from the pro-War Social Democratic and anti-War Independent Social Democratic Parties. Their demands included the

speedy conclusion of a peace without annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the nations’ right to self-determination, according to the provisions formulated by the Russian People’s Commissars at Brest-Litovsk.

They also wanted the removal of the state of siege and military control of the factories, the release of all political prisoners, the introduction of a general and equal franchise and a thorough democratisation of all institutions of the state. The strike spread rapidly to towns throughout Germany, including Munich, Mannheim, Brunswick, Bremen, Cologne, Hamburg, Kiel, Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) Leipzig and Nuremberg. In all of these towns with the exception of Munich and Berlin the strike collapsed after a week. In Berlin Military Command suppressed it by placing the leading armaments factories under martial law. In Munich Kurt Eisner, one of the leading USPD politicians and opponent of the War, Kurt Eisner, was arrested before he could call for a general strike to bring down the government. The moderate Social Democrats were thus able to retake control and the Strike ended a few days later.

See F.L. Carsten, Revolution in Central Europe 1918-1919 (Aldershot: Wildwood House 1972) 14-15.

I’ve blogged about the bitterness caused by the First World War across Europe, and the anti-War poems of some of the soldiers, who fought in it, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Germany also has its great anti-War work from the time of the First World War, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The original German title is Nichts Neues Im Westen – ‘There is Nothing New in the West’. It’s also a bitter comment on the belligerent nature of Western civilisation. I think it’s also important At this time to recognise that Germany also had its campaigners for an end to the War and for a just peace that would establish friendship between nations afterwards. It’s a point that could easily get forgotten in the programmes, documentaries and debates about the War during this centenary.