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International Socialism, Autumn 1978


Colin Sparks

Fascism and the working class

Part 1: The German experience


From International Socialism, 2:2, Autumn 1978.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The development of the National Front, and its apparent appeal to sections of the English working class, has provoked a considerable amount of discussion on the question of fascism. Marxists have generally argued that, as a social phenomenon, fascism is a ‘petit bourgeois’ movement, and we have regarded the National Front penetration of the working class as an historical ‘accident’ which they would move away from as they evolved into a traditional fascist movement. [1] In this article, I want to examine rather more closely what we mean by considering fascism as ‘petit bourgeois’, and to examine the relationship between the German Nazis and the working class. In a subsequent article, I intend to examine the National Front and contemporary British society in order to discover how far it is valid to apply the lessons drawn from the 1920s and 1930s.

I intend to concentrate on the German example, although it was only one of two successful mass fascist movements in the period. I will refer to Italy only in passing. This is because the social structure and economic situation in Italy in that period was in fact rather distant from that of an advanced, industrial capitalist, nation. As we shall see, Germany was, in important respects, rather archaic in terms of its class structure. However it did represent a far closer approximation to a fully-developed capitalist society than did Italy.

We can begin by accepting that, ideologically, the formation of the ‘National Socialist German Workers’ Party’ (the NSDAP, which was the full title of the Nazi party) correspond very closely to the reactionary anti-capitalism of the German petit bourgeoisie. [2] Further, it is beyond dispute that, once in ‘power’, the NSDAP not only organised the physical destruction of all the organisations of the German working class, parties and unions – and atomised the entire proletariat – but also ruled in the overall interests of German big business. [3] Neither of those two matters are currently in dispute amongst marxists.

The position is much less clear with regard to three other issues, and it is upon these that I intend to concentrate. They are: firstly, some aspects of the theory of fascism, secondly, the impact of the NSDAP upon the German working class in the period preceding the ‘seizure of power’ in 1933; thirdly, the overall relationship of forces; between the different classes in Weimar Germany. [4]

The theory of fascism

In general, I accept the theory of fascism put forward by Leon Trotsky, most notably in his writings collected as The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany. [5] This may be stated in outline as follows: in the epoch of monopoly capitalism the economy enters into a severe crisis in which it is necessary to consolidate the rule of capital on a new basis. In order to solve, at least in the short term, both the internal problems of the economy and to prepare the ‘nation’ for coming struggles with other ‘national capitals’, it is necessary to subordinate the whole of society to the accumulation of capital and to restructure capital itself much more drastically than is common in periods of boom. In certain circumstances, bourgeois democracy is incapable of providing a political form within which this can be done and other instruments must be used. Prime among these is fascism, which consists of a mass movement of the desperate petit bourgeoisie welded together into an unstable bloc under the banner of-reactionary anti-capitalism, following the defeat of a proletarian upsurge. Once the fascists come to power they physically destroy the labour movement and purge themselves of their ‘radical plebeian’ followers in order to rule in the interests of monopoly capital. Trotsky himself put it succinctly in 1930:

... Spain may go through the same cycle as Italy did, beginning with 1918–1919 ferment, strikes, a general strike, the seizure of the factories, the lack of leadership, the decline of the movement, the growth of fascism and of a counter-revolutionary dictatorship. The regime of Primo de Rivera was not a fascist dictatorship because it did not base itself upon the reaction of the petit bourgeois masses. [6]

While most of this is undoubtedly correct, it contains at least one important gap, and a number of points have either been lost or distorted since Trotsky wrote it.

The major gap in what Trotsky wrote was in considering the ‘gestation period’ of fascism – that time when it is an organised force but not yet a mass movement or a serious contender for power. This is a common fault in marxist and semi-marxist accounts of fascism. [7] It may be partly explained by the nature of the experience under study. In Italy, certainly, the growth of the fascist movement was extremely rapid. Although the ‘Fasci d’Azzione’, including Mussolini among their leaders, were formed in late 1914, the fascist movement proper was not founded until 23 March 1919. At this stage, the role and character of the new movement were not at all clear, least of all in the mind of Mussolini. The character of Italian fascism was formed in action rather than reflection, and the decisive period for this was the last part of 1920 and early 1921, when a veritable black terror engulfed the strongholds of Italian Socialism. [8] The conclusion was the ‘March on Rome’ on 28 October 1922. Thus we have the development of a new historical formation concentrated into a period of, at most, four years. The rapidity and unexpectedness of the rise of the fascists explains to some extent why the leaders of Italian communism devoted relatively little attention to it [9], and why later accounts have little to say about the process by which the movement developed. By the time Italian fascism became a recognisable force, it was already a mass movement.

The German case is rather different, in that Hitler joined the direct predecessor of the NSDAP – the ‘German Workers’ Party’ (DAP) – in September 1919, over 13 years before his summons to power. However, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that we attribute any importance to this then obscure event. We tend to think of the ‘rise’ of the NSDAP as an unbroken chain, and to the contemporary leaders of International Communism the problem was not seen as central until the NSDAP was already a mass movement. It is our ‘fortune’ that we have the experience before us and can recognise the danger of fascism from a very early stage.

In fact, the gestation period does not present the picture of a uniform ‘rise’, if we subject it to a closer scrutiny. In the first period, from 1919 to 1923, the NSDAP was one among many gangs of ex-soldiers and marginal elements bent upon forcing the Reichswehr (the then name of the German Army) into a reactionary coup against Weimar. This they failed to do. The 1923 ‘Beer Hall Putsch’, led by Hitler, had as a prominent figure the military hero Ludendorf in an attempt to impress the Army. This had some impact upon the local military leaders, but failed to move the General Staff. In fact, that avenue had been decisively closed in March 1920. At that time, an obscure civil servant called Kapp, backed by a section of the Freikorps (bands of reactionary soldiers, officers and students formed by the Social Democrat government after November 1918 to lead the crushing of Workers and Soldiers Councils set up in the period of revolutionary upsurge at the end of the war), had attempted a coup.

Although they occupied Berlin and drove the Social Democratic government out of the capital, they were so openly reactionary that they forced even the German Trade Unions to call a general strike. The army General staff were very sympathetic to the coup and refused to move against the insurgents, although their official attitude was ‘wait and see’. What they saw was a general strike so complete, and an arming of the working class so widespread that the new ‘government’ collapsed within days. From that point on it was clear to the General Staff, and to any other officer not completely mad with reaction, that no purely military reaction was possible. Weimar Germany could only be ruled by means of collaboration with the trade union bureaucracy. The ending of Weimar was possible only if there was a social force of sufficient size and power to terrify the unions into submission. Hence, when Hitler tried his hand in Munich in 1923, the result was a fiasco.

The NSDAP was hardly a party during the time Hitler spent in prison between 1923 and 1926 and even after his early release it was at best one small and reactionary political party. It was only after 1928 that it emerged as a mass party, destroying the voting base of the ‘orthodox’ reactionary parliamentary parties and building up a massive para-military force (the SA – the ‘storm troops’), which did provide exactly the force for intimidating the trade union leaders.

It is therefore clear that fascist movements do not simply emerge as elemental forces in the class struggle, but have a history and a development. Before they can be a serious factor in society they have to be of a sufficient size and power to be able to perform their chosen role. A closer examination of the gestation period will be particularly important in the next article, which will examine the National Front.

If we now move to a discussion of the way in which Trotsky’s analysis is currently received, there are two major areas in which there have been fairly substantial distortions. The first concerns what we may call the ‘right wing’ interpretation of Trotsky. It is well known that the major thrust of Trotsky’s writings on Germany was a polemical attack on the theory and practice of ‘social fascism’ which dominated the Communist International’s official line. [10] It is generally agreed, even by those hostile to Trotsky, that he was correct on this point. [11] However, what is often not specified is the exact points of divergence and the extent to which Trotsky was building on an analysis begun by the Communist International in an earlier period. At the Third Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, in June 1923, a position, introduced by Clara Zetkin, was adopted which does not differ radically from that of Trotsky. One major difference was that, in 1923, the fascist movement was seen as a symptom of the ‘progressive dissolution of capitalist economy and of the disintegration of the bourgeois state’. [12] Trotsky gave more weight to the relationship between fascism, imperialism and international reaction, calling Hitler the ‘super-Wrangel of the bourgeoisie’. [13] In this, as in much else, Trotsky was quite justified in claiming that his opposition current was not dreaming up a new political line but continuing and deepening that adopted by the Communist International in the period Lenin’s life. This continuity is often glossed over by those writers who wish to argue that the Communist International did not develop a position on fascism until at least 1935, in order to justify their own enthusiasm for the anti-fascism of the ‘Popular Front’. [14]

But it is on the question of the precise character of ‘social fascism’ that more severe distortions occur, in that it is argued by many who would claim to stand in the tradition of Trotsky that, in the face of fascism, Trotsky argued for an accommodation to Social Democracy. This is not the case. Consider the following quotation:

There is one common feature in the development, or more correctly the degeneration of modern trade union organisations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power ... the tendency towards ‘growing together is intrinsic not in this or that doctrine as such but derives from social conditions common for all unions ... The capitalist cliques at the head of mighty trusts, syndicates, banking consortiums, etcetera, view economic life from the very same heights as does state power; and they require at every step the collaboration of the latter. In their turn the trade unions in the most important branches of industry find themselves deprived of the possibility of profiting by the competition between the different enterprises. They have to confront a centralised capitalist adversary, intimately bound up with state power. Hence flows the need of the trade unions – insofar as they remain on reformist positions ... – to adapt themselves to the capitalist state and to contend for its cooperation. [15]

This is not taken from a Communist International publication but from Trotsky, although it admittedly dates from some time after the end of the Third Period policy. It represents the same analysis of the trade union question as formed the starting point for ultra-leftism of the Third Period. [16] The Communist International, of course, went a great deal further; for example, the Theses on the Economic Struggle and the Tasks of the Communist Parties adopted by the July 1929 Tenth Plenum of the Communist International read:

Already the sixth congress of the Comintern and the fourth congress of the RILU have recorded the fusion of the reformist trade union apparatus with the bourgeois state and with the large monopoly capitalist enterprises. During the last year, in connection with the unfolding of the class conflicts, this process has gone still deeper. Just as social-democracy is evolving through social-imperialism to social-fascism, joining the ranks of the vanguard of the contemporary capitalist State in the suppression of the rising revolutionary movement of the working class ... the social-fascist trade union bureaucracy is, during the period of sharpening economic battles, completely going over to the side of the big bourgeoisie, defending compulsory arbitration, endeavouring to harness the working class to the yoke of capitalist rationalisation, transforming the reformist trade union apparatus into a strike-breaking organisation. [17]

At no time did Trotsky reject the notion that the role of social democracy was counter-revolutionary. Neither did he deny that it was ‘paving the road for fascism’, which he argued was ‘absolutely correct’. Indeed he recognised that many social democratic leaders would prefer the triumph of fascism to the victory of proletarian revolution:

There can be no doubt that, at the crucial moment, the leaders of the Social Democracy will prefer the triumph of fascism to the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. [18]

His disagreement lay in the fact that he recognised that fascism threatened the social democratic organisations with destruction as much as it did the communist ones. From that, it followed that the social democratic leaders could not play a fascist role so long as they remained dependent upon the existence of mass working class organisations for their social position. It was precisely because of this contradiction between the politics of the leaders of social democracy and the objective threat to the masses upon whom they depended that Trotsky argued that a genuine united front policy was a possibility:

The thousands upon thousands of Noskes, Welses, and Hilferdings prefer, in the last analysis, fascism to Communism. But for that they must once and for all tear themselves loose from the workers. Today this is not yet the case. Today the Social Democracy as a whole, with all its internal antagonisms is forced into sharp conflict with the fascists. It is our task to take advantage of this conflict and not to unite the antagonists against us.

The front must now be directed against fascism. And this common front of direct struggle against fascism, embracing the entire proletariat, must be utilised in the struggle against the Social Democracy, directed as a flank attack, but no-less effective for all that.[19]

Thus, for Trotsky, the imperative need for a united front against the NSDAP did not mean that the struggle against social democracy was to be abandoned or relegated to a minor place. Indeed, the united front was one of the ways in which the best elements in the Social Democracy could be won in struggle to the positions of the Communists. But the condition for this was that the Communist Party maintained its independence both organisationally and politically and did not submerge itself in ‘anti-fascist’ unity. Those contemporary theories which utilise Trotsky to justify collaboration with Social Democracy and the abandonment of the independent role of the revolutionary party thus negate Trotsky’s own position and adopt that of Dimitrov:

... we have repeatedly declared: We shall not attack anyone, whether persons, organisations or parties, standing for the united front of the working class against the class enemy. But at the same time it is our duty in the interests of the proletariat and its cause, to criticise those persons, organisations and parties that hinder unity of action by the workers. [20]

There remains one further point upon which Trotsky has been widely misinterpreted. We have seen above how, in the case of Italy, Trotsky argued that fascism in Italy developed following the failure of a mass upsurge of the proletariat. From this, it is widely argued today that it is a necessary condition for the growth of a mass fascist party that there be a ‘defeat’ or at least a ‘failure’ of the proletariat. [21]

First of all, it should be recognised that this was not Trotsky’s position. This was the view held by the Communist International, and Trotsky specifically attacked it.

... in the past, we have observed (Italy, Germany) a sharp strengthening of fascism, victorious or at least threatening, as the result of a spent or missed revolutionary situation, at the conclusion of a revolutionary crisis in which the proletarian vanguard revealed its inability to put itself at the head of the nation and change the fate of all classes, the petty bourgeoisie included ... But at present, the problem in Germany does not arise at the conclusion of a revolutionary crisis, but just as its approach ... Fascism comes ‘too late’ in relation to old revolutionary crises. But it appears sufficiently early – at the dawn – in relation to the new revolutionary crisis. The fact that it gained the possibility of taking up such a powerful starting position on the eve of a revolutionary period and not at its conclusion, is not the weak side of fascism but the weak side of Communism. [22]

While in Trotsky’s account the rise of a mass fascist party may have been facilitated by the failure of the proletariat, there were conditions under which a mass fascist party could be built without such a defeat. This made fascism that much greater a danger. [23]

When we come to examine the evidence we are forced to conclude that even Trotsky’s dialectical grasp of fascism over-simplifies the situation, unless we specify very clearly what we mean by the concepts of ‘failure’ and ‘defeat’. The case of Italy is the most favourable. It is true that in September 1920 the metalworkers suffered a major setback, although their month-long occupation of the factories was not smashed by the forces of reaction. Tasca describes the situation as follows:

But the so-called victors were demoralised. After super-human efforts they had tasted the joys of free production, only to find themselves no better off than they were before, and worse still, with no prospect of improving their lot. [24]

But Italian fascism did not build its mass base by means of a frontal assault on the metal workers of Turin. On the contrary, the vast majority of early assaults were in the countryside and consisted of attacks on the agricultural workers’ unions. These had not experienced a direct defeat, and at least in the well-documented case of Ferrara, had won their disputes in 1920. [25]

What this seems to suggest is that, in the middle of a very intense social and economic crisis, the failure of the Italian proletariat to present itself as the leading class in the nation opened the road for, other groups. The working class was not so much defeated as demoralised and fragmented and was thus not able to prevent the mass influx of the petit bourgeoisie into the ranks of the fascists. In this instance, the term ‘defeat’ or ‘failure’ is to be understood in the sense that the proletariat was unable to mount a serious challenge for state power. It clearly does not mean proletarian organisations, and in particular the trade unions, were seriously damaged in an organisational sense as the result of a direct confrontation with the capitalists or their state.

The German case is even less favourable to the mechanical assertion of the necessity of a ‘defeat’. It is true that, between 1919 and 1923 the German working class had suffered a series of major reversals. The year 1919 had seen a protracted civil war all over Germany between the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils and the Freikorps. This had been a very bloody defeat for the proletariat. The aftermath of the Kapp putsch had been a bitter fight between the Reichwehr and the armed workers, in particular in the Ruhr. In March 1921 the German Communist Party (KPD) had attempted its own, highly adventurist coup (‘The March Action’). In 1923 there had been a virtual collapse of the economy and massive unrest which the KPD had failed to take advantage of. In this sense, there had been a string of failures and defeats of a very open and clear kind. However, the period between 1923 and 1928 were not ‘years of defeat’ for the working class. On the contrary, they were: years of modest but real advances. At the economic level, there were substantial advances as real wages rose.

Male Wage Rates

Male Wage Rates

These gains, however, were not the result of victorious class struggles. Despite the rises, the overall level of wages in 1928 was no higher than they had been in 1913, although in some trades (e.g. metal-working and printing) they were substantially higher. [27] An indication of this relative class peace is that, in 1926 the ‘Free Trade Unions’ (The ADGB United German Trade Union League – closely linked to the Social Democratic Party of Germany, or SPD, was the major union movement in Germany; it can be compared to the TUC) spent six million marks on strikes as opposed to sixty-two millions on other benefits. [28]

What had in fact happened was that the always-substantial SPD and ADGB bureaucracy had swollen and become involved in an ever-wider range of bodies, both official and semi-official. Among their preserves were unemployment commissions, co-operative housing projects, cultural centres, insurance schemes, school management boards, local and state governments, the boards of nationalised industries, their own bank and office equipment firm, etc. [29] Anderson gives a picture of the German labour movement during this period which it is worth quoting in full.

The power of capital had grown so prodigiously that the Unions not only felt that they were too weak to fight their own battles, but probably were in fact too weak to fight successfully. After 1924, therefore, there was a very noticeable and rapid decline in the number of strikes led by the unions. That is not to say that the number of strikes decreased because there were fewer conflicts; it decreased because the Union relied more and more on State arbitration. State arbitration and the decreasing number of strikes created the false impression of a genuine, if temporary, industrial peace at that time. In reality, the conflict of interests between employers and workers had become so irreconcilable that free negotiations no longer led to workable agreements.

For the unions this development was fatal. The less they relied on their own strength, the more dependent did they become on the State, whatever the character and policy of the government in office. A further consequence was that the workers gradually lost interest in the Unions because they felt that it was the State, and not the Unions, which fixed their wages and decided their working conditions. This loss of interest in the Unions was further increased by the legal extension of collective agreements to all unorganised workers, as well as by the comprehensive system of social insurance and the creation of special Labour Courts for the settlement of legal disputes between employers and employed.

The crowning piece of social legislation was the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1927. The Unions had played a great part in the drafting of this Act and of social legislation in general. But this work was chiefly done by special committees and experts who negotiated and worked, as it were, behind the scenes, and the Unions therefore got very little of the political credit which they truly deserved, because the mass of workers knew next to nothing of these activites. [30]

What we have is a picture of relative class peace during a period of reasonable economic activity during which the unions became enmeshed in a wide range of legal and semi-legal mechanisms of class-collaboration. As a consequence of this, the bureaucracy became further estranged from the membership and the level of rank-and-file activity and involvement dropped. We can hardly call this a defeat in any orthodox sense, although it is a picture whose general contours are only too familiar.

It might be objected that this period was one in which the NSDAP was a marginal force and unable to recruit in any substantial numbers, and it is indeed true that in the 1928 General Election the NSDAP gained only 800,000 votes (which was 2.6% of the total). This argument goes on to say that it was only with the great slump that the NSDAP vote rocketed (to some 6.4 million in 1930 and to 13.7 million in July 1932). This account ‘saves the face’ of the mechanical theory by transforming the slump into a ‘defeat’ of the working class.

There are a number of points to be made about this. First of all, there is a major element of truth in the account it was indeed the case that the conditions of very severe social and economic crisis were what drove millions into the camp of the NSDAP. It is also true that neither the SPD, the ADGB, nor the KPD were able to provide a realistic solution to the crisis. This undoubtedly was a defeat, but it is very different from the sort of defeats which had characterised the early twenties.

Unemployment in Germany

Unemployment in Germany

Secondly, if we examine the period rather more closely, we find that there is a direct correlation between the onset of the world crisis and the growth of the NSDAP into a mass party. The collapse of the New York Stock Market occurred on 24 October 1929, and although there was already substantial unemployment as a symptom of the crisis in Germany, it is not until after this that mass unemployment developed.

In a number of areas, the NSDAP had registered substantial growth before unemployment reached the level of three million. Their student organisation dominated the Universities of Erlangen and Greifswald in the course of 1929. By the end of 1929 the SA already had 100,000 members. In the elections in Thuringia on 8 December 1929 the NSDAP gained 11.3% of the votes. By the end of 1929, the party had 178,000 members. [32] None of this, of course, represents a mass breakthrough such as was to occur in the course of the next two years, but it does indicate that the growth of the NSDAP coincided with a collapse of the German economy rather than followed one step behind a proletarian defeat.

On balance then, I would argue that we cannot hold to the tenet that a fascist party can only develop after the failure of working class in a decisive class battle. Undoubtedly, such a contingency facilitates the development, but it is one among a number of factors which are not of the first importance. Others are the long tradition of official anti-semitism in Germany, the existence of the Friekorps tradition, the structure of the German family, etc.

In sum then, we can conclude that the theory put forward by Trotsky held and holds for the main dynamics of fascism. It should be clear, however, that, as with all theories, it is essential to pay close attention to the specifics of the situation that we are discussing. The attempt to force reality into the universal categories of a received theory is not dialectical materialism but rank idealism and it can only lead to complacency, mistakes and possible defeats.

The Nazi impact on the German working class

A case in point is the question of the social base of the NSDAP it is one of the articles of faith amongst marxists of all stripes that the NSDAP was a ‘petit bourgeois’ movement. Few would quarrel with Trotsky when he wrote in 1931, that:

The main army of fascism still consists of the petit bourgeoisie and the new middle classes; the small artisans and shopkeepers of the cities, the petty officials, the employees, the technical personnel, the intelligentsia, the impoverished peasantry. [33]

This point is generally conceded even by bourgeois writers like the publicist Shirer and many others. [34] However, there is a strain of virulently anti-communist writers who have devoted very considerable efforts to trying to prove that the marxist account is wrong and that the NSDAP was, at the least, a party drawing its members from all social classes. Whatever their motives, however, they are able to draw attention to some rather unpleasant historical evidence. Even a writer like Bracher (a bourgeois scholar, but one who accepts that the NSDAP was a middle class party) notes that the working class membership of the NSDAP rose from 20% in 1930 to 32% in 1934. [35] Even if we accede to his argument that, as the working class constituted 46% of the population, it was severely ‘under represented’ in the NSDAP, we still have an uncomfortably large number of proletarians to explain away.

Before examining the evidence in more detail, it would be as well to consider more clearly what we mean when we say that a movement is ‘petit bourgeois’. There are two senses in which we can use the term: one is as a sociological description of the composition of a movement; the other is that the programme and ideology of the movement are ‘appropriate’ to the petit bourgeoisie. Clearly, any adequate account of marxism would have to offer a theory of the way in which the two senses were related, not only in this case but in other examples of class consciousness. There are, in general terms, two opposed schools of thought about this. One tends to reject sociological analysis as representing a number of quite deadly sins like ‘sociologism’, ‘economism’, ‘reductionism’, etc. According to this school of thought, the existence of working class support for a fascist movement can simply be explained by means of the ‘pressure of bourgeois ideology’ on the working class. The problem with this account is that the precise problem is to explain how and under what conditions such pressure can be successfully exerted. An alternative account poses the existence of an ‘ideal’ consciousness appropriate to each class and to which real living representatives of that class approach more or less closely. This theory, with its rejection of a static notion of an ‘objective class position’ seems to me much nearer the truth, but it fails to resolve the problem of the mechanisms by which such a process occurs.

It is clear that although fascism is ‘historically’ dependent upon the petit bourgeoisie, it does not follow that it is ‘essentially’ petit bourgeois in that the ideas and actions of the movement can only be borne by the members of the appropriate class, or that they cannot be borne by members of a class whose ‘historic’ interests are quite different. The problem can only be resolved by considering the question of the relationship between classes in struggle. We will look at the German case in the third section; here it is sufficient to note that it is not necessarily the case that every last fascist hooligan must be a bankrupt shopkeeper even if fascism is the organised expression of bankrupt shopkeepers.

When considering the question of the extent to which the NSDAP penetrated the German working class it is therefore necessary to specify which layers we are speaking of in each case. If we begin with those workers who demonstrated at least the vestiges of class consciousness by means of voting for a workers’ party, i.e. the SPD and the KPD, we find that in overall terms the NSDAP was singularly unsuccessful. Between 1924 and November 1932 there were five General Elections in which the combined votes of the SPD and KPD were as follows.

Combined SPD & KPD Votes in
General Elections
[36] 1924–1932

Combines SPD + KPD Votes

Of the SPD vote, it was estimated that, in the 1930 election, 2.6 million were from the lower middle class. [37] It is likely from the fact that the KPD was largely a party of the unemployed that it got few votes from this source. Thus, even on an unfavourable assumption, something in the region of 10 million out of 16 million German proletarians remained loyal to their class parties. [38] This view however, begs the question, in that we are here obviously speaking of workers who retained some degree of class consciousness, whereas the real question is obviously that of the workers who were not class conscious.

If we take another angle, and look at the responses of employed workers, it is clear that the organisational and political dominance of the SPD was never seriously challenged. [39] In 1930, 89.9% of factory committee members (roughly corresponding to shop stewards) were Social Democrats. [40] It has been claimed that the NSDAP front organisation, the ‘National Socialist Workplace Organisation’ (NSBO) did ‘surprisingly well in the factory elections throughout Germany’ in 1931. [41] However, even in May 1933, the SPD gained 73.4% of the votes, as against 11.7% for the NSBO. This mass resistance to the NSDAP in the factories continued for a remarkably long period. [42]

The true feelings about the regime, particularly among the workers, were made evident in the shop steward elections of April 1935; the results were never made public, but on the basis of available evidence it seems that frequently no more than 30–40% of plant voted for the single Nazi slate. [43]

A slightly different story emerges if we examine the composition of the NSDAP and its front organisations. Before doing this, it is necessary to take account of two problems. I have mentioned before that many of the sources which pay attention to this are openly hostile to marxism. This is very much the case with the most recent work on the subject that I have been able to locate, M.H. Kele’s Nazis and Workers. [44] His evidence then must be treated as that of a hostile witness. This is compounded by the second problem in that writers in this tradition have a tendency to accept very unscientific concepts of class, for example those offered by the NSDAP. This definition was notoriously flexible in that the main NSDAP newspaper (Völkischer Beobachter [45]) wrote after the death of the SA man Horst Wessell that he had ‘earned his bread as a worker’. [46] He was in fact a petty criminal.

The relationship between the NSDAP and the working class was not, in fact, a constant one. Völkisch groups, particularly ones hostile to Slav workers, had a long history of activity among German-speaking workers, particularly in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before 1914, they had made little headway and their impact had been marginal compared with that of the ‘official’ anti-semitic groups, one of which built a substantial base in the ‘Red City’ of Vienna. In the turmoil of revolution following the end of the first world war, a host of reactionary circles flourished in a number of social layers. The DAP, direct predecessor of the NSDAP, was founded by a toolmaker, Drexler, and its initial membership was made up of his fellow-workers. According to some reports, about 30–35% of those attending its meetings in the period 1919–1920 were workers. [47] Among those who were not workers was Hitler, sent there as an agent by military intelligence for whom he worked. According to the membership lists of 29 May 1920, out of 675 members, 27% were skilled workers and 2.9% unskilled. [48]

During this period the party was expanding fairly rapidly and, at its first conference as the NSDAP on 22 January 1921, it claimed 3,000 members. The circulation of Völkischer Beobachter was 11,000 in January 1921, rising to 17,500 in 1922 and not falling below 7,500 during the whole period. [49]

Some efforts were apparently made to recruit workers and the Bohemian Nazi Simm wrote that ‘the extension of our trade union movement ... is our most important task at present. [50] In Honiver, membership figures for 1923 indicate about 33% of the membership of the local party were industrial workers. However, success was apparently limited and the local leader, a ‘radical’ factory worker named Siefert experienced a very hard time in his own workplace. [51] This would seem to be very understandable, as the NSDAP was, at this time, officially opposed to strikes. It seems that, during this period, the only real links the NSDAP could claim with any ‘labour organisation’ was with the reactionary and ‘völkisch’ employees organisation the Gedag. [52]

This failure to achieve any substantial working class base was persistent at least until the late 1920’s, despite the fact that very considerable efforts were made to present the NSDAP as a party for workers, particularly in North Germany. [53] However, in 1927 the NSDAP changed its attitude and began to offer some support for strikes. [54] By the time of the famous 1932 Berlin transport workers’ strike the NSBO claimed to be supporting twenty-six other strikes throughout Germany. [55]

We have already seen how the NSBO failed to gain any mass implantation in the factory council elections, but other sources indicate that the NSDAP did make some gains in recruiting workers. For example, a Berlin police report showed that ‘perhaps half of all SA men arrested for possessing weapons were ‘workers’. [56] It is estimated that in the elections of September 1930, 27.4% of NSDAP votes came from clerks and 21.4% from workers. That is, something over 1 million manual workers. [57] As the 1930 election involved a mass of ‘new voters’ and it is generally agreed that the NSDAP was the main beneficiary from the political awakening of these previously passive elements, it seems quite possible that there was an influx of working class support around this time. These would be workers who had no previous political commitment or involvement and thus little or no class consciousness. Such a ‘political profile’ would explain the sharp divergence between the general political impact of the NSDAP on sections of the working class and their complete inability to transform that into any substantial base around day-to-day class issues.

The NSDAP did make a major effort to gain a factory implantation with the founding, in July 1928, of the NSBO. The NSBO had an organ, the fortnightly Arbeitertum (Workerism), founded in March 1931. This was, apparently, a very well-produced Paper employing a professional staff of very talented journalists, but, ‘despite being very heavily subsidised and often given away free’, it only had a circulation of 80,000 in 1932. The NSDAP itself also Produced a ‘working class’ paper – Der Deutsche Arbeiter (The German Worker) – but, ‘this publication sold in bulk lots, at a fraction of a pfennig per copy, to local Nazi organisations – and perhaps Nazi businessmen – for distribution in the shops.’ However, the extent of these efforts should not be over-emphasised if one notes that in 1932, the NSDAP produced a total of 59 daily papers with a combined circulation of 782,000. [58]

The actual membership of the NSBO has been compiled from two, slightly conflicting, sources (Orlow and Kele). It ran as follows.

NSBO Membership

NSBO Membership

These figures require a certain amount of commentary. Orlow argues that, after 1929, the membership was drawn largely from white-collar workers. [60] This may explain the early growth to the end of 1931 but it seems to me much more important that in early 1932 the NSBO set up unemployed cells. As this coincides strongly with the massive growth of the NSBO, it is possible to argue that the bulk of the ‘work-place organisation’ consisted of the unemployed. On these, Vajda argues that the bulk of Nazi supporters were drawn from the ‘new’ unemployed.

... who had been proletarianised out of a petty bourgeois, mostly peasant milieu and usually very soon became unemployed. [61]

Further, Guerin argues, very convincingly, that the NSDAP made gains amongst unemployed youth who had no work experience. [62] Unfortunately, neither of these writers gives any details or sources and I have been unable to follow up these interesting points.

Despite this evidence, it remains the case that the NSBO did make some impact in the factories. The level of activity seems to have been fairly low, with only a very few workplace bulletins produced. [63] No doubt a great deal of this was due to the inherent difficulties in organising the ‘trade union’ wing of an openly anti-working class party. For example:

The Arbeitertum in September 1931 warned that any Nazi recognised as strike breakers would be thrown out of the party. In August, 1932, when SA men were caught scabbing, the NSBO protested to Roehm. The SA chief apologised and promised that SA men would honour NS BO picket lines, although they were free, of course, to cross those of the ‘Marxist’ unions. [64]

On the other hand, Arbeitertum, in July 1931, published a long article eulogising the Krupp family, not only one of the largest capitalists in Germany but also one of the most viciously anti-union. [65] The genuine unions expelled anyone holding a NSDAP card, and the NSBO was forced to try to act as an independent union, a task at which it does not seem to have been very good. [66]

With regard to the methods and nature of the NSBO factory penetration, Black provides some very interesting accounts from the RILU Magazine of September 1932. [67] In three reports, from Halle-Merseburg, the Ruhr and Berlin, there are reports of considerable fascist interventions in the factories. According to these accounts, the fascists worked ‘underground’ for a long time, and apparently to a definite plan. This consisted of establishing a base in the offices, often with the connivance of the employers, and then moving through the foremen and skilled workers to the mass of the workers. In one large Berlin factory this was apparently so successful that the sale of Nazi literature at the gates far exceeded the sale of KPD material.

The overall conclusions that we can draw from this study are as follows. Despite its origins as a ‘proletarian racist’ organisation, the NSDAP during its gestation period was overwhelmingly a party of the middle classes. In the slump, its rise to the role of a mass party was accompanied by some voting support from the industrial working class, probably from the Weimar equivalent of the ‘working class Tory’ type, and some fairly substantial recruitment among the more backward sections of the unemployed. By the time the NSDAP was a serious contender for power, it had succeeded in establishing a base in at least some major factories, although this base was apparently unable to organise around specific class issues except in very rare cases. With these reservations, it is fair to state that the NSDAP was, both sociologically and ideologically a ‘middle class’ party, although we shall have to give further attention to what we mean by the term ‘middle class’, as about half the votes in the 1930 election seem to have come from wage workers and we cannot claim with confidence that the term ‘petit bourgeois’ is an accurate description of the base of the party.’

Class structure and class organisation in Weimar Germany

Even if we assume that the penetration of the NSDAP into the working class was very much a subsidiary aspect of its development, we still have to examine how it was that an openly and vehemently reactionary party came to gain even the level of working class support that it did. I have already argued that neither the ‘objective class position’ theory of consciousness nor the ‘pressure of alien ideologies’ account is adequate to deal with these problems. In this section, I intend to attempt an analysis which is based on the notion that class consciousness, although of course delimited by objective class position, is a function of the relationship between classes and the nature of the class organisations. In particular, the question of the party is central; as Trotsky puts it: ‘The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes conscious.’ [68]

The first factor to take into consideration is the intensity of the economic and social crisis in the period. We have already seen how disastrous the impact of unemployment was in the period after 1929. To take another index, total industrial production fell by 42% between 1929 and 1932, and the total national income fell by 40%. [69] We are therefore dealing with a society in which there was an extremely sharp and catastrophic slump in the economy and the standard of life of millions. At the same time, the pressure to revise the ‘external’ relations of German capitalism – bluntly, to prepare for a new imperialist war – was very intense. Thus we have a society in which the depth of misery, the extent of the frustration, and the need to restructure capital all operated at a far higher level than any we have experience of in Western Europe today. If we look at the overall class structure of Weimar Germany, we find the following relations for the year 1925:



Social Group

Percentage of population



Old middle class


New middle class






Of the above terms, ‘capitalists’ is fairly self-explanatory. The term ‘old middle class’ was used to apply to artisans, dealers in goods and services and most peasants. The term ‘new middle class’ applies to salaried employees and the lower professionals. ‘Quasi-proletarian’ applies to what is called the marginal independent – the owner of the small shop or store, the very small peasant and those selling labour as a service. The term proletarian is more vaguely defined. [70] Factory production workers proper seem to have accounted for about 30.6% of the workforce, while industrial and agricultural wage workers altogether accounted for 45.1%. [71]

What emerged very strongly from this, irrespective of arguments about one or two percentage points, is the proportional weight of the ‘old’ social classes of independent small owners – together making up almost one third of the working population. Secondly even if we assume that the category of ‘new middle classes’ is made up entirely of white-collar wage workers, it is still not the proportionately dominant sector of the middle class.

Up until the crisis, at least, this section of the population was growing but, however much it might feel itself privileged, its pay and conditions were hardly good. On an earnings basis, it was estimated that, in 1925, some 75% of the population had what was termed a ‘working class income’. The crisis appears to have caused this position to deteriorate still further.

Studies made by non-socialist unions of the economic conditions of salaried employees from 1928 to 1930 reveal widespread discrimination against white-collar workers; salaries paid were below the ones fixed by collective agreements. Promotion to the higher managerial positions had almost ceased. [72]

Between 25 and 40% of these employees came from working class backgrounds and they performed routinised and degraded labour of the standard kind.

Thus, even if we ignore any subjective factors, it is clear that there was a substantial social bloc, amounting to perhaps one third of the total working population for whom the term ‘petit bourgeois’ is a scientific description and for whom the NSDAP ideology was, as it were, made to measure.

However, given this overall social structure, there are a number of factors which would facilitate an influence of those groups in excess of their numerical weight. Consider the case of agriculture, where the NSDAP notoriously found its earliest mass base: the existence of a large peasant sector, together with a large force of agricultural wage labour, can have two consequences: If the proletariat of the cities can put forward a viable alternative, it is possible for the agricultural workers and poor peasants to come behind socialism. If the urban classes fail, then it is possible for the peasantry to dominate the agricultural wage worker so that the aim becomes not the socialisation of agriculture by means of collective action but the individual dream of the agricultural worker transforming himself into an independent peasant. If this movement is of sufficient size, it can begin to draw behind some of the wage workers of the small towns who retain close links with the countryside. [73]

To take another case, in an industrial structure in which there are very large numbers of independent artisans (well over one million in 1925) [74] it is possible for the wage worker to dream, not of workers’ power, but of setting himself up as yet another small producer working on his own account.

Further factors of a different sort arise from the extent of unemployment in the depths of the slump. In such circumstances, the ability to get a job, or to hold on to it, by means of being a ‘model’ worker without any reputation for trouble-making is obviously something which would appear to many workers as an attractive proposition. What better credential of that could there be to a Nazi employer than an NSDAP membership card? If it is true that much of the employment available at the time was of a short term nature, then the pressures would be multiplied.

But we are here speaking of possibilities, and they inevitably raise the question of organisations and their policies.

To begin with the NSDAP, we have already seen how, on the basis of support in the offices, the tentacles of political support were put down into the factory floor. This policy of penetrating the working class from above seems to have been well-developed by the Nazis, in line with their exaltation of ‘nation’ above class. The SA, in particular, used this means:

In the years after 1926 the Storm Troops became an important branch for worker recruitment and propaganda ... some unemployed workers came into the SA for a place to sleep and a little food. The SA Mann, a supplement of Völkischer Beobachter, solicited jobs and food for the SA workers. Nazi businessmen were urged to give priority to SA men in employment and Nazi housewives were asked to give them room and board. [75]

Given the extent of the mass unemployment [76], these tactics of ‘vertical integration’ of sections of the less conscious workers could expect to command some success. This policy would of course, be increasingly effective if other, class-based channels, proved impotent.

This leads us to the question and extent of the organisations of the German labour movement. To begin with the trade unions, we have already seen how they, and the SPD, were embedded in class-collaboration to an enormous degree. In fact, this social position seems to have been based on what was, by today’s standards, a remarkably slender base. Of the 1925 working population of 21 millions, 16,172,000 were classified as workers. [77] Although there were major changes going on, I have been unable to find detailed figures, and it is therefore impossible to give an estimate of ‘union density’. However, in overall numerical terms, the situation was as follows:

Union Membership in Germany

Union Membership in Germany

In addition, there were between 150,000 and 225,000 members of the collaborationist ‘Hirsch-Dunker’ unions in the period. [78] It seems, then, that only a little over a quarter of German workers were organised in anything we could recognise as a trade union. In at least one respect, these unions, or at least their bureaucracy, was far better organised than contemporary British examples: the ADGB produced 84 weekly papers with a total regular readership of about six million. [79]

On the other hand, if we look at the crucial sector of the ‘new middle class’, we find that union organisation was extremely weak. Out of a total of between 3,500,000 and 4 million of these workers, 1,100,000 could be claimed to be ‘organised’. [80] However, when we break this down, we find the following:












’Völkisch’ Gedag




’Yellow’ GdA





Of these, only the AFA can really be considered a union, and the Gedag, in particular, was an organisation with close Nazi links. [81] In fact, the hold of trade union organisation over this sector continued to fall sharply – the AFA had 203,000 members in 1931 – and it has been alleged that these consisted almost entirely of the employees of various labour movement organisations like co-operatives. [82] Thus it seems that no significant proportion of the ‘new middle class’ were ever won to even the elements of trade unionism /ndash; and this stratum was, as a body, hostile to labour organisation.

With regard to the political parties, we have already seen how the SPD and KPD managed to hold on to their voters remarkably well, with the KPD gaining at the expense of the SPD as the crisis deepened. However, it is necessary to consider this question rather more closely. There is a tendency in marxist discussion to open and close discussion of the SPD with the label ‘reformist’. This designation is undoubtedly correct, but there is a sense in which it conceals a great deal of the specificity of the SPD, particularly at the organisational level.

To begin with the membership, this changed in the period as follows:











Sept. 1935













Civil Servant




Of these, 8% were under 25 and 25.9% over sixty. [83] In general terms, then the SPD was a large, predominantly manual working class party with an ageing membership.

However, these bald figures do not give a real picture of the SPD. Apart from its close alliance with the ADGB, it maintained a remarkable range of other activities. For example, in 1927 it produced 188 daily papers with a total of 1,188,401 regular subscribers. [84] It also ran a defence organisation, the Reichsbanner, which had a total of about 3,500,000 members, as against less than half a million in the SA. [85] In addition to all this, it ran a vast array of sporting, education, cultural, youth and women’s organisations.

The KPD was a much smaller organisation, but was organised along much the same lines. Its membership was:




















Of these, in 1928, 40% were skilled workers and 28% unskilled. [86] However, its growth in later years was almost entirely among the unemployed; in 1932, 78% of its members were unemployed. [87]

Its activities were similarly extensive. I have fewer details for these, although in 1924 it produced 27 papers. [88] In the late twenties, its most successful organ, the illustrated periodical AIZ, had a circulation of between 500,000 and 700,000. Its defence force, the Roter Front Kampferbund (‘League of Red Front-Fighters’) had a membership of 100,000 in 1924. [89] It too maintained an elaborate array of secondary organisations in addition to the highly unsuccessful RGO (‘Red Trade Union Opposition’) during the ‘Third Period’. It was a much younger party than the SPD and also had a very high membership turnover. [90]

There is a general conclusion that we can draw from this short survey of the working class organisations of Weimar Germany. There seems to be a fairly wide gap between the ‘density of organisation’ of those workers who were organised and those who were not organised. It is as though the German working class had a core of class conscious workers ‘sealed’ inside it, surrounded by a much more amorphous mass of the working class, Neither the SPD (by reason of its reformism), nor the KPD (by reason of its ultra-leftism) was able, in the slump, to provide a direction to the mass of the working class. What they had, they held; but they were incapable of a successful offensive.

Thus, the strengths and weaknesses of the German working class organisations combined to make the penetration of the NSDAP into the working class a curiously uneven process. While it could make some gains among the multitude of workers not covered by class organisations, it confronted the central core of the proletariat as an impenetrable barrier and failed to make any substantial gains at least up to the point at which it was on the verge of destroying the class organisations themselves.


There are a number of points which have arisen in the course of this article which require some further comment. The first of these is that it is clearly not impossible, given the right social conditions, for a fascist movement to build some sort of base amongst the working class, although in the German case we have seen how this was dependent on the existence of a fairly massive ‘traditional’ social base. In this respect, the structure of Weimar society was extremely uneven; despite being a highly advanced industrial society, it was at the same time deeply marked by a substantial group of ‘archaic’ classes which fit very well the term ‘petit bourgeois’.

The German working class, on the other hand, had a curiously contradictory character. Its organisations correspond much more closely to their classic description of ‘a state within the state’ than do modern examples. A range of activities which are today carried out by the state or private capital, and which do not fit exactly the term ‘aspects of class consciousness’ in its narrow definition, were in Germany organised by the labour movement. Thus, while the overall level of class organisation was low by modern standards, that section which was organised exhibited extreme resistance to fascist ideology. Consequently, in a situation in which the SPD dominated the politics of the employed working class, and the KPD dominated the politics of the unemployed, it was possible for the NSDAP to achieve some penetration into the working class, but not to translate this into a serious force inside the working class movement. The inability of the KPD to recruit employed workers and to seriously challenge the hold of the SPD meant that, despite its numerical size, its weight in the class struggle proper was minimal. [91]

In the next and final part of this article, I shall examine the nature of contemporary British society and the role of the National Front with reference to some of the lessons drawn from this study.


1. In the case of the SWP it would probably be more honest to write ‘I’ for ‘we’, as the major exponent of this argument, in terms of volume at least, has been Colin Sparks. I do not intend to exempt myself from the critical remarks that follow, and a classic example of the unthinking application of orthodox categories can be found in my Fascism and the National Front (SWP 1978).

2. A detailed history of this can be found in Vol. 1 of R. Black’s Fascism in Germany (Steyne 1975). This is a much maligned book, and it certainly has very obvious faults, but despite these it remains useful.

3. There is some controversy over the exact way in which this was carried out, but it is generally recognised that big capital had a very soft time in Nazi Germany.

4. The term ‘Weimar’ is applied to the German political system between 1919 and the end of 1932 or the start of 1933. It arises from the name of the town in which the Constitution was written in 1919. We shall examine some of its features below.

5. Currently published by Penguin books (1975). Afterwards cited as Struggle.

6. In Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (Pathfinder 1973), p. 64.

7. For example, N. Poulantzas, Fascism and Dictatorship (NLB 1974), devotes a couple of pages to the problem. M. Vajda, Fascism as Mass Movement (Allison and Busby 1976), is, as his title suggests, not at all concerned with the question.

8. Angelo Tasca, in The Rise of Italian Fascism (Fertig, New York 1966), pp. 119–120, collects an incomplete list of 726 fascist attacks for the first half of 1921. These included the destruction of 17 newspapers and printing works, 59 People’s Houses. 119 Chambers of Labour, 83 Peasant Leagues, 151 Socialist Clubs and 151 Culture Clubs. (This book was first published under the name of ‘A. Rossi’. I have used a re-printed edition.)

9. Gramsci, for whom I find it difficult to share the current enthusiasm, shows this very clearly at least on the basis of the Selections from Political Writings 1919–1926 (Lawrence and Wishart 1978). It may be due to the eccentricity of the editors, but in this book it would not be unfair to say that the problem of fascism rates rather lower than that of internal party disputes.

10. ‘Social fascism’ was a theory that the Social Democratic parties and Trade Unions were openly carrying out the tasks of fascism. It was a theory developed in the Communist International’s ‘Third Period’. There is a little confusion over the exact dates during which this applied, but it was very roughly from 1928 to 1935.

11. Poulantzas (op. cit.) very reluctantly ‘gives Trotsky his due’ with regard to Germany.

12. Quoted in J. Degras (ed.) The Communist International, Vol. ii (Cass 1971), p. 41.

13. Wrangel was a white guard general who fought against the Bolsheviks in the Civil War.

14. An example is, M. Kitchen, Fascism (Macmillan 1976), who provides an excellent critique of bourgeois theories of fascism while ultimately defending the line put forward by the 1935 Seventh Congress. The major problem with this position is the victory of Franco in Spain. On this very contentious issue F. Claudin, The Communist Movement (Penguin 1975); devotes most of his section on Spain to a defence of Trotsky’s position. Claudin, who can hardly be called a Trotskyist, was a leader of the Spanish Communist Party during the relevant period and thus may be considered uniquely qualified.

15. From the unrevised article Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay found on Trotsky’s desk after his murder. Printed in Marxism and the Trade Unions (New Park 1972), pp. 5–6.

16. See, for example, the texts from 1928 printed in J. Degras, op. cit., and in H. Gruber, Soviet Russia Masters the Comintern (New York, Anchor 1974).

17. Quoted in J. Degras (ed.), The Communist International, Vol. iii (Cass 1971), pp. 54–55.

18. Struggle, p. 27.

19. Ibid., pp. 104–05.

20. G. Dimitrov, Report to the Seventh Congress of the Communist International 1935 (Scientific Booksellers n.d.), p. 60.

21. Examples are: Tony Cliff, interviewed in Socialist Review, No. 1, April, 1978, where he is quoted as saying that ‘Fascism cannot become a mass movement before workers go into a mass struggle and are disappointed’; Colin Turnbull makes the same point as the lynch-pin of his criticisms of the policy of the SWP in Socialist Challenge of 10 August 1978.

22. Struggle, p. 14.

23. According to him, the period in Germany which corresponded much more closely to the picture of a proletarian defeat was not characterised by a fascist menace: ‘In 1923, Brandler, in spite of all our warnings, monstrously exaggerated the forces of fascism. From that wrong evaluation of the relationship of forces grew a hesitating, evasive, defensive, cowardly policy. This destroyed the revolution.’ Struggle, p. 15.

24. Tasca, op. cit., p. 80. Spriano tends to confirm this view in The Occupation of the Factories (Pluto 1975).

25. See P. Corner’s excellent study Fascism in Ferrara (Oxford 1975).

26. The figures refer to wages of workers covered by 17 collective agreements and are averaged across Germany. They are taken from H. Guradze, German Labour in Zenith and Eclipse in The American Scholar, Vol. viii, No. 2, Spring 1939, p. 204.

27. H. Grebing, The History of the German Labour Movement (Wolff 1969).

28. Guradze, op. cit., p. 205.

29. Lists of these enterprises are cited in Guradze, op. cit., pp. 206–67 and in E. Anderson, Hammer or Anvil (Oriel, 1973), pp. 111–112. (I have used them reprinted edition of the Anderson, which was first published in 1945.)

30. Anderson, op. cit., pp. 110–111.

31. Cited in M.H. Kele, Nazis and Workers (University of North Carolina, 1972) p. 170 and p. 178. According to Grebing (op. cit., p. 109) what employment there was available was often of a very short-term nature.

32. Details from K.D. Bracher, The German Dictatorship (Penguin 1973), pp. 208–14.

33. Struggle, p. 92.

34. In his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Pan 1960).

35. op. cit., p. 295.

36. Cited in Anderson, op. cit., p. 141, and numerous other sources.

37. Cited in R.N. Hunt, German Social Democracy. 1918–1933 (Chicago, Quadrangle 1970), pp. 129–30 and 140.

38. The figure for 16 million workers is given by Guradze, op. cit., p. 208, at 16,172,000 and refers to 1925. We shall return to the question of the size of the working class in more detail below.

39. It had been challenged in the period of the proletarian failure. In the 1924 elections the KPD got 34.23% of the votes as against the SPD’s 33.85%. (Cited in Anderson, op. cit., p. 103)

40. Cited in R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution (San Francisco, Proletarian 1974), p. 150. (This is a reprint of the 1934 edition.) It is not clear from the text whether this figure refers to all enterprises or only a sample employing 5,900,000 workers. The ‘factory committees’ were legal bodies written into the constitution and were mandatory for all enterprises employing more than 20 workers. They were elected by all workers irrespective of trade union status, and did not exactly correspond to shop stewards, although that is the usual translation.

41. Kele, op. cit., pp. 190–91.

42. H. Braunthal, The History of the Internationals, Vol. 2 (London, Nelson 1966).

43. Bracher, op. cit., p. 308.

44. Kele’s major concerns are to challenge the notion that the NSDAP was a middle class party by means of showing that they put considerable effort into the recruitment of workers and that Goebbels, not the Strassers, was the leader of the ‘real’ left wing in the party. He concludes that the notion of the NSDAP as a middle class party is a myth spread by marxist writers. His evidence does not support his case and he is a classic example of the cold-war scholar born too late.

45. The name is almost untranslatable. One version is ‘Racist Observer’. The word ‘Volk’ is not really rendered by its English cousin ‘folk’; it has a much harder, racist, tribal or mystic sense in German.

46. Quoted by Kele, op. cit., p. 148. Kele is aware of the problem but offers little alternative and frequently adopts NSDAP definitions without question. All the figures cited in this section are open to this problem and should be treated with caution.

47. Kele, op. cit., pp. 34–35, cites the reports but judges them unreliable.

48. Ibid., p. 36.

49. Cited in D. Orlow, The History of the Nazi Party, Vol. i, (University of Pittsburgh, 1969), p. 19.

50. Cited by Kele, op. cit., p. 44.

51. Ibid., pp. 48–49.

52. Ibid., p. 44.

53. Ibid., p. 121.

54. Ibid., pp. 122–23.

55. Ibid., pp. 200–201.

56. Ibid., p. 148.

57. Ibid., pp. 162–67. Detailed local studies show some transfer from the SPD and KPD block, but they are not that significant in terms of the overall rise of the NSDAP vote.

58. Ibid., pp. 170–71.

59. Orlow, op. cit., p. 237, p.276, Kele, op. cit., p. 170.

60. Op. cit., p. 176.

61. Vajda, op. cit., p. 20.

62. D. Guerin, Fascism and Big Business (New York, Monad 1973), pp. 57–62.

63. Kele, op. cit., p. 70.

64. Ibid., p. 201.

65. Ibid., p. 178.

66. Orlow, op. cit., p. 197.

67. R. Black. Fascism in Germany, Vol. ii.(Steyne 1975), pp. 729–31. The ‘RILU’ was the ‘Red International of Labour Unions’, an organisation of those trade unions in sympathy with Communism. It had been set up during the revolutionary period of the Communist International and did command some substantial support. By this time, however, it was deeply committed to the policy of ‘red’ dual unions, particularly in Germany.

68. Struggle, p. 134.

69. Cited in A. Schweitzer, Big Business in the Third Reich (Eyre and Spottiswood 1964), p. 71.

70. The figures, based on the 1925 Census, were derived by a Professor Geiger and are widely, and sometimes contradictorily, cited by secondary sources. I have used the figures and gloss contained in Schweitzer, op. cit.

71. Hunt, op. cit., p. 103, derived from Geiger.

72. Schweitzer, op. cit., p. 75.

73. In this context, it is interesting to note Kele’s remarks: ‘Although the SPD remained strong in the larger cities of Schleswig-Holstein, the Nazis had some success in small towns among workers in small-scale manufacturing’ (op. cit., p. 197). I have not conducted a study of the impact of the Darre organisation on agriculture, which would be essential to settle this point.

74. Cited in Schweitzer, op. cit., p. 66.

75. Kele, op. cit., p. 123.

76. The official figures probably underestimated the extent of unemployment. Even allowing for the normal margin we expect today, the fact that the German economy contained large numbers of family concerns, particularly farms, and the fact that mass unemployment on that scale would produce a very substantial ‘vagrancy effect’, would mean that such an estimate grossly underestimated the real extent of unemployment and under-employment,

77. H. Guradze, op. cit., p. 208, again based on Geiger.

78. Ibid., pp. 199–200.

79. Hunt, op. cit., p. 168.

80. Schweitzer, op. cit., p. 67, cites 4 million. Guradze. op. cit., p. 202, cites 3.5 million.

81. Kele. op. cit., pp. 72–73. The GDA might perhaps be considered about equivalent to UKAPE or some other small non-TUC union of today.

82. Hunt, op. cit., p. 137. He cites the membership composition as the opinion of Franz Neumann.

83. Hunt, op. cit., p. 100. He cites a complete run of figures.

84. Hunt, op. cit., p. 50.

85. Ibid., pp. 51–52. Hunt claims that it was ‘of course’ unarmed. I doubt that it had substantial arms, despite sources to the contrary, but it is likely that the SPD hoped to be able to rely on their control of the Prussian police to give them access to arms in a crisis. In fact the Reichsbanner (‘National Flag’) was kept out of ‘trouble’ most of the time. In considering private armies in Weimar, we must remember that a substantial proportion of their membership would have had military combat experience.

86. Cited in Poulantzas. op. cit., pp. 174 and 181.

87. Cited in ibid., p. 181. Braunthal, op. cit., p. 000 [sic!ETOL] cites even more extreme figures for various cities: 8 percent employed in the Ruhr: 5 percent in Kiel; 1 percent in Lubeck.

88. Brandler, writing to Deutscher much later, printed in New Left Review 105.

89. Poulantzas. op. cit., p. 185. The KPD did not maintain a consistent policy of confrontation with the fascists, but their defence force certainly did have arms.

90. Black, op. cit., Vol. ii, pp. 712–13n. cites many examples.

91. This question of the nature of the apparatus of working class parties seems to me important in the discussion of a number of questions. One is the rather obscure debate being conducted by Harman, Shaw, et al. in the pages of this journal. In the light of the SPD and to a lesser extent, the PSI together with their associated trade union machines, the question of the nature of ‘hegemony’ makes rather more sense.

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