Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter X: No Man’s Land

The Swastika on the helmet of steel
Black-White-Red band [1]
Is known throughout the land.
Workman, workman, what will become of you
When the Ehrhardt Brigade stands ready for the fight?
The Brigade of Ehrhardt knocks everything to bits.
Woe to you, woe to you, workman, son of a bitch.

(Song of the Captain Hermann Ehrhardt ‘Free Corps’ Brigade)

The German Reich is a Republic. Political authority emanates from the people... Freedom of association for the preservation and promotion of labour and economic conditions is guaranteed to everyone and all vocations. All agreements and measures attempting to restrict or restrain this freedom are unlawful. (Articles 1 and 151 of the Weimar Constitution)

‘Political power...’, says the Communist Manifesto, ‘is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.’ [2] The key word is organised, for like all the general propositions of historical materialism, those pertaining to the state must be concretised and filled out through study of the class struggle in particular periods and countries. We have already noted how, because of its unique development, the German bourgeoisie found itself able to exert political influence only indirectly, mediating its enormous economic power and dominance over the proletariat through the caste of state bureaucrats and officials selected from the Prussian squirearchy, the Junkers. The war of 1914-18 and the ensuing collapse of the Hohenzollern monarchy did not eliminate this characteristic of the German bourgeoisie, rather they changed the bases on which the process of the mediation of state power continued. The war accelerated two political trends already at work – one, the search for a means of securing collaboration with the right flank of Social Democracy; the other, a drive towards militarisation of political, economic and social life with a consequent subverting of the most basic democratic liberties and rights. But the great irony of the war – and one to which we have already referred more than once – was that these two trends, far from running counter to each other as they had done under Bismarck and were to do later under the Bonapartist regime of von Papen, for a brief period approached, though never quite attained, parallel courses.

While Social Democratic Party leaders and the High Command could jointly mobilise the resources of the nation for military victory without disruption from ‘below’, the latent tensions which always existed between reformist labour and the ruling classes could be smothered quite successfully. In this way, the optical illusion was conjured up in the early months of the war (an illusion Hitler depicted as a permanent reality) that the class struggle had been abolished in Germany. But on each and every occasion when the previously silent masses began to stir and speak, fissures began to open up in this strangest of all united fronts. The arrest and jailing in May 1916 of Karl Liebknecht for his consistent and public stand against the war immediately provoked not only a strike on his behalf by an estimated 60 000 Berlin factory workers, but a deep-going split in the ranks of the SPD. The expulsion of a majority of the Berlin party executive committee’s members for supporting the strike helped create the organisational nucleus for the oppositional grouping that a year later formed the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). In turn, as the centrists and Lefts won more support from the war-weary, overworked and poorly-fed working class, the SPD leaders had to engage in a series of left manoeuvres to stem the haemorrhage from their ranks. Ebert, the super-patriot and hater of revolution, even went so far as to order his party officials to endorse the anti-war strike of January 1918 [3] lest it come under the exclusive leadership of the Lefts, and so develop in a revolutionary direction.

The zigzag course forced on the SPD leaders throughout and after the war exemplifies the Marxist theory of bureaucracy, pioneered by Lenin in his deep-going analysis of the degeneration of the Second International and the initial stages of bureaucratisation in the Soviet Union, and then enriched by Trotsky in his many and brilliant writings on the nature and role of the Stalinist bureaucracy both as regards the Soviet Union and its impact on the world class struggle through the medium of the Communist International. The SPD and ADGB bureaucracy was not a class, even though, like its future counterpart in the Soviet Union, it constantly struggled to secure for itself an independent position in German society. Craving respectability in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, aping its manners and style of dress, and raising himself above the mass of proletarians to the standards of life of the stolid German petit-bourgeois, the SPD or ADGB functionary remained, whatever his subjective delusions of grandeur, a paid official of the reformist wing of the German labour movement. His social privileges and conservative outlook suited him admirably for the role of ‘labour lieutenant of the bourgeoisie’, but only for as long as he continued to draw his salary from the party treasury. Whether in a workers’ or capitalist state, the party bureaucrat represents that portion of the workers’ movement which has, through a whole range of mediations and agencies, arisen as a response to the corrupting pressure of imperialism on the workers’ movement. And because of this contradictory relationship that the bureaucracy has with both imperialism and the working class, it is unable to pursue a clear-cut policy. Its survival depends upon a series of pragmatic improvisations, about-turns and somersaults, all of which have but one aim – the preservation of its own material privileges.

Its organic tendency is to seek to muffle the impact of the clash of classes, for it requires social peace in order to enjoy and extend its privileges. It therefore sees its role as one of buffer between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, and makes many adjustments in the realm of ideology to further this role of mediator, twisting the vocabulary of socialism often out of all recognition as it does so (this was the basic driving force behind Bernstein’s attack on revolutionary Marxism, and the many subsequent attempts to blunt the cutting edge of the Marxist dialectic). But the bureaucracy is a buffer with a difference. It is not an independent social class. It remains tied to organisations founded, built and financed by the working class and can only hope to go on enjoying the rights and privileges which it has usurped from the proletariat by holding onto a sizable proportion, if not the majority, of those in whose name the bureaucracy claims to speak. Thus while the bureaucracy stands or falls with the rule of capital (for as a mediator in the class war, it must at all costs seek to maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie, and not its overthrow), neither can it sever the umbilical cord which ties it to the organisations whose aim it has perverted. If the bourgeoisie decides to make an end of independent working-class organisations – and this is the essence of fascism – then it must also, despite Social Democracy’s many, invaluable services to capitalism in the past, make an end of the bureaucracy as well. Herein resides the key to the understanding of one of the greatest and, for many, the most perplexing of all ironies of German history: that the party which created the Weimar Constitution and was its most fervent defender, was also outlawed by it.

More than any other element of the political ‘superstructure’, constitutions embody and codify the accumulated illusions and prejudices of men. This is not to say of course that constitutions do not serve as screens for the rule of a single class. But they carry out this function imperfectly, sometimes even to such an extent that the bourgeoisie can be compelled in certain circumstances to tear up its own constitution. [4] The seemingly absurd spectacle of a bourgeoisie rising up in revolt against its own rule often leads formalistic thinkers to conclude that fascism contains a ‘revolutionary’ or anti-capitalist element, since it uproots institutions and subverts rights which the bourgeoisie itself has fought for – with varying amounts of energy and success – in the past. We will return to this aspect of fascism again, but it is first necessary to separate out the various forces which brought the Weimar Constitution into being before passing on to those which occasioned its demise. Like all other forms of thought – law, philosophy, etc – a constitution is an abstraction of real material relations, both past and present. Engels warned against simplistic thinking in this field when he wrote:

The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc, juridical forms... – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. [5]

Weimar illustrates this perfectly. Like nearly all constitutions, it issued out of a profound social and political upheaval which either broke up or seriously undermined the previous forms of domination – ideological as well as institutional – through which the bourgeoisie had exerted its dictatorship over the proletariat. But although the Weimar Constitution can justly be described as one of the most systematic expositions and codifications of bourgeois democracy, the German bourgeoisie can hardly be credited with having fought for its introduction. For the most part they viewed its articles proclaiming the sovereignty and rights of the people with the gravest disapproval and apprehension. Therefore in the sense implied by Engels, this class cannot be regarded as ‘victorious’. The real victory, such as it was, went to Social Democracy and those liberal elements closest to them organised in the German Democratic Party (DDP).

But neither could the bourgeoisie actively oppose the reforms proposed by Social Democracy and subsequently formalised – though by no means consistently implemented – under the Weimar Constitution. With the army crumbling away before its eyes, the ruling class quickly saw that it lacked the material means to suppress the deep-going movement in the masses for democracy, peace and social change. The only alternative to delegating governmental powers to the Ebert leadership was, as we have already seen, a social and not political revolution. This alliance, forged in the heat of imperialist war and the threat of proletarian revolution, was purely one of necessity so far as the dominant sectors of the bourgeoisie were concerned. On the other hand, the leaders of Social Democracy quite sincerely believed that the pact of 9 November concluded with Gröner and the leaders of old Germany was ushering in an entire era of peaceful and fruitful collaboration between the reformist bureaucracy and the German bourgeoisie. Illusions, as Engels pointed out, can exert a powerful influence on the course of history, especially when they grip not merely leaders, but as they did in Germany, millions.

Weimar also illustrates another tenet of historical materialism; namely, that ideas, institutions and the other aspects of the superstructure no more reflect the material basis of society immediately than they do perfectly. The Weimar Constitution became law in August 1919, yet the conditions which had given rise to it – the enforced alliance between Social Democracy and the bourgeoisie against the revolution – had already passed away. Certainly the threat of proletarian revolution remained, but its initial thrusts had either been diverted by the creation of the Ebert government or crushed by Free Corps murder squads under the direction of Minister of Defence Gustav Noske. The bourgeoisie, military leaders and of course Germany’s old rulers, the Junkers, were by this time already finding Weimar democracy irksome, especially as, by the very nature of things, its smooth functioning depended upon the participation of representatives of various workers’ organisations at every level of political and economic life. This basic antagonism towards the economic, social and political fruits of the November bloc lay at the heart of all the great crises which shook Weimar to its foundations in the first years of its life, [6] and which in the end, resulted in its disintegration.

And not only was the edifice of Weimar – the most democratic constitution in the world as the SPD leaders often smugly insisted – erected on a rickety political foundation, namely the transitory identity of interests which prevailed in the winter of 1918-19; it also saw the light of day in a Germany whose economy and currency had been bled white by four years of all-out imperialist war and the predatory reparations exacted by the victorious allies. The Social Democrats and their liberal allies were seeking to re-enact – this time they hoped successfully – the revolution of 1848 in an epoch and in a country where the ruling classes were becoming ever more hostile to the notions and institutions of democratic government and social reform. The Weimar Constitution – whose authors quite consciously took both the colours and the programme of 1848 as their model – arrived a matter of 70 years too late.

Although democratic demands still played an important part in mobilising the masses against capitalist and landlord rule in those countries where feudal institutions and social relations survived, throughout Europe from Britain to Russia the revolution could only secure basic democratic rights for the mass of the working population by overthrowing, not reforming, the capitalist state and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus attempts to force the November Revolution into a bourgeois-democratic mould were counter-revolutionary both in intent and result, even though in the course of the struggle, the working class could only be sidetracked by means of a series of social and economic reforms. [7] That the proletariat secured basic trade union rights and the establishment of a ‘welfare state’ was entirely due to its own fighting capacity and courage in the early days of November 1918. The tragedy was that these concessions were so paltry in comparison with the enormous sacrifice paid in literally thousands of workers’ lives. As far as the leaders of Social Democracy were concerned, the reforms sufficed to lift them to what they took to be the summits of political power, and as such, they had to be seen to be defending these gains on behalf of those workers who still supported the SPD. But the reforms which became embodied in the Weimar Constitution were viewed differently again by those who had to surrender them. To appreciate the fleeting and unstable nature of what we might term the ‘November bloc’, we can contrast the initial attitude of leading bourgeois and military circles to the formation of the Ebert government with the shift towards reaction which gathered pace in these same quarters less than a year after the official proclamation of the Weimar Constitution.

Let us therefore return to the autumn of 1918 to see precisely how the ruling class, with the aid of Social Democracy, devised its strategy of exploiting the democratic aspirations of the German masses to head off the socialist revolution. And on this question, the main participants in this counter-revolutionary conspiracy have been most frank. Thus Prince Max of Baden, who handed over the Chancellorship to Ebert on 9 November, writes:

I said to myself that the revolution was on the point of winning, that it could not be beaten down, but might perhaps be stifled out. Now it is the time to come out with the abdication, with Ebert’s Chancellorship, with the appeal to the people to determine its own constitution in a Constituent National Assembly. If Ebert is presented to me as a tribune of the people by the mob, then we shall have the Republic; if Liebknecht is, we shall have Bolshevism as well. But should Ebert be appointed Imperial Chancellor by the Kaiser at the moment of abdication... perhaps we should then succeed in diverting the revolutionary energy into lawful channels of an election campaign. [8]

Which would of course provide the bourgeoisie with the vital political breathing space it so desperately needed to begin the rebuilding of its badly-mauled state machine and the refurbishing of its tarnished image in the eyes of its millions of petit-bourgeois supporters. [9] The SPD leaders had been allotted a role in this strategy which, by virtue of their party’s history and roots in the masses, could be fulfilled by no other political group. It was the task of the reformists to emasculate the workers’ and soldiers’ councils which were then springing up all over Germany by securing their agreement to parliamentary elections, thus in effect committing suicide as potential organs of proletarian state power. Contacts between the two partners in the conspiracy were soon made at every level, paralleling the secret pact between Ebert and the High Command. On 15 November, after several days of private talks, the leaders of the ADGB concluded an agreement with the major employers’ organisations. [10] If abstracted from the time and place where they were formulated, the demands secured by the leaders of the trade unions seemed highly commendable. Indeed, after a half century of stubborn resistance, the ‘hard-line’ bosses conceded the right of unions freely to organise in their plants, while withdrawing their former support for company ‘unions’. The November agreement also provided for the workers’ right to be consulted on conditions of work, and the establishment of freely elected works’ councils to represent the interests of the workers in their dealing with the employers. Finally, in this ostensibly impressive list of concessions extracted from the employers, the limit of the working day was fixed at eight hours – a demand for which the Second International had fought since its foundation in 1889. Now the leaders of German industry were falling over themselves to grant it – and a lot more besides.

The reasons for this sudden about-turn are not hard to find. In November 1918 Germany’s employers were faced with something far more radical – and final – than conceding the eight-hour day or the right of workers to organise. They were faced point-blank with expropriation, and only the blindest in their ranks failed to see that unless they bent to the pressure of the masses, the authority of the trade union bureaucracy would be undermined and the road cleared for the Spartacists and their allies in the shop stewards’ movement. And this was not denied by one of their most important spokesmen, J Reichert, the secretary of the Association of German Iron and Steel Industrialists, who with the super-tycoon Hugo Stinnes was instrumental in winning over fellow employers to the pact:

The question [facing us in the talks] was how can we save industry? How can we spare capitalism from the threatening socialisation? Unfortunately, the bourgeoisie as it is in Germany could not be relied upon in things economic-political. We concluded that in the midst of the general great insecurity and in view of the tottering of the power of the state and the [imperial] government there were strong allies of industry only among the working class, and these allies were the trade unions. Moreover, there was a revolutionary government that consisted entirely of workers’ representatives, and it was to be feared that the eight-hour day would become law if the employers did not compromise.

Thus did a leader of German heavy industry justify his pact with the once-despised ADGB. And there were few employers who would have at this time – early 1919 – disagreed with him. The workers had the eight-hour day, their works’ councils and the right to organise, but the bourgeoisie still had its property. And the time would come when what had been conceded under duress would be taken back – with interest.

Having recorded two impressive victories – the undertaking by Ebert to fight the revolution, and binding the trade union leaders to an agreement which implicitly recognised the right of the employers to continue exploiting the working class, even if for one or two hours a day less than previously, the ruling class turned its attention to the pressing task of winding up the council movement. Here they acted only through the Social Democrats, for, by their very nature, the councils excluded the open, as opposed to disguised, representatives of the bourgeoisie. From the very beginning, Ebert’s strategy was to commit the councils to the creation of a parliamentary – and hence bourgeois – republic, as opposed to a workers’ republic based upon the council system. The SPD was assured of a majority in the councils not only by virtue of the infancy of the movement itself – the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries swamped the Bolsheviks at a similar stage of the Russian Revolution – but due to the delayed nature of the split in German Social Democracy. The USPD broke from Ebert’s party only in April 1917 – and even then the rupture was precipitated by mass expulsions – and the KPD in its turn severed its links from the centrists as late as 30 December 1918 – two weeks after the opening of the First Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Berlin.

The choice facing the 488 delegates [11] was very clear, and one that had faced a similarly momentous congress in Petrograd little more than a year earlier – council (’soviet’) power, or the continued rule of the bourgeoisie, however democratic its guise. Yet the USPD centrists, like the compromisers Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin on the very eve of the October Revolution, sought to blur over the fundamental and absolute contradiction between these two opposites. When the time came at the Congress to vote on resolutions calling for the mutually exclusive policies of vesting all state power in the workers’ and soldiers’ councils and the holding of elections to a constituent assembly, a sizeable group of USPD delegates voted ‘yes’ to both resolutions. [12] Yet there was no such confusion – if confusion it was – in the minds of the SPD delegates. They took their line from Ebert’s opening address, which after demagogically lauding the heroism and discipline of the working class in the revolution, proceeded to spell out his plan for the new Germany:

... the victors [of the revolution] had to seize power and establish the provisional government, which until the meeting of the National Assembly is confronted with the task of regulating and strengthening the new regime... On the basis of victorious revolution you shall erect the new legal state. For... in Germany there can be permanently only one source of law: the will of the entire German people. This was the meaning of the Revolution. The rule of force hurled us to destruction, we will not suffer any sort of rule by force in the future, no matter from whom it may come. [Sic!] The sooner we succeed in placing our new German people’s state upon the firm foundation of the will of the entire nation, just so soon will it realise its great socialist goals. The victorious proletariat does not establish any class rule. It conquers the old class rule – first politically, then economically – and establishes the equality of all who bear a human countenance. [13]

Ebert was carrying out the instructions of Prince Max – and Gröner – to the letter: that is, ‘stifling the revolution’ with parliamentary elections, one of the most tried and trusted cards in the bourgeoisie’s pack. Ernst Däumig, speaking in support of the council system of government, was tragically prophetic when he declared to a largely hostile audience:

When the history of these revolutionary weeks in Germany is written, people will smile and say: ‘Were they so blind as not to see that they were putting ropes around their own necks?’ For anyone who thinks clearly must perceive that the jubilant approval of the National Assembly is equivalent to the death sentence of the system of which they now form a part, the council system. [14]

Däumig pleaded to no avail. Not even the sharp lash of the tongue of a Lenin or a Trotsky, a Liebknecht or a Luxemburg [15] could have undone in a few minutes what had accumulated over years and decades. In a solid phalanx, Ebert’s men raised their hands in support of political suicide. And, as subsequent history has shown, it led not only to the self-destruction of the councils – the national congress met but once more to hand over its powers to the Constituent Assembly – but the suicide of the entire German labour movement. Failure to overthrow the bourgeoisie and destroy its state when the class enemy was at its weakest and most demoralised led inexorably – with the aid of the Stalinists – to the triumph of National Socialism 14 years later. And even some of Ebert’s closest collaborators in this monumental act of betrayal paid for it with their lives.

Even as Ebert spoke in condemnatory tones about the ‘rule of force’, preparations were being made to assemble the counter-revolutionary units which were destined to play such a crucial role in the history of Weimar – Gustav Noske’s ‘Free Corps’. The first step had already been taken when Ebert undertook – on the insistence of the High Command – to subordinate the soldiers’ councils to the discipline of the old officer corps. With the revolution in the army contained, and socialist ‘contamination’ of its troops stemmed, the High Command felt more secure. It at once began to apply pressure not only on the left wing of the workers’ movement, but even the Ebert government itself whenever it felt the Social Democrats to be making too many concessions to the workers. Troops loyal to their officers were brought back into Berlin, the centre of the council movement, and at once there were bloody clashes with armed workers and sailors. Gröner subsequently said of this stage of the counter-revolution:

At first it was a question of wrenching power from the workers’ and soldiers’ councils in Berlin, an operation was planned for this purpose, the military entry of 10 divisions into Berlin, the People’s Commissar Ebert was completely in agreement with this... there were a number of difficulties... some Independent members of the government, but also I think some soldiers’ councillors... demanded that the troops move in without live ammunition. [16] We naturally opposed this at once, and Herr Ebert naturally agreed that the troops should move into Berlin with live ammunition. For this entry by the troops which was to afford us at the same time an opportunity to re-establish a firm government in Berlin... a day-by-day military plan had been elaborated. This plan set out what was to happen: the disarming of Berlin, that is, the Berlin workers clearing Berlin of Spartacists, etc.

In conclusion Gröner – who was giving evidence at the official inquiry into the so-called ‘stab in the back’ legend held in 1925 – lauded the ‘socialist’ Ebert to the skies:

I am especially grateful to Herr Ebert for this and have defended him against all attacks for his absolute love of the Fatherland and his complete dedication to the cause. This plan had been formed throughout with Herr Ebert’s knowledge and agreement. [17]

The formation and brief flourishing of the November bloc was faithfully echoed in the ruling-class press. Thus the extreme right-wing Berliner Lokalanzeiger conceded: ‘We must face realities. We therefore subscribe to the government’s programme.’ That was, until the ruling class was strong enough to change it. The Junker Deutsche Tageszeitung was even enthusiastic about the virtues of democracy:

Only a government chosen by impeccable methods, ensuring the triumph of the people’s will can have any authority... We repeat that there must be no disagreements among the German bourgeoisie, and that it must strongly support the Socialist government.

And yet only a few weeks earlier, this same paper had denounced in the most scathing terms Ebert’s government for seeking peace with the allies:

Words cannot suffice to express the indignation and the grief... Germany, yesterday still unconquered, now left at the mercy of her enemies by men bearing the name of German, forced to her knees in ignominious disgrace by felony in her own ranks... This is perfidy that can never and shall never be forgiven. It is an act of treason, not only towards the monarch and the army, but towards the German people...

Paul Becker – the journalist who wrote the article – meant every word, and his paper’s apparent volte-face a matter of weeks later in no way involved a retraction of anything he had said about the Social Democrats. The old imperialist circles simply had to bide their time, making the necessary purely tactical adjustments to the new political situation.

But it was only on the extreme left flank of the bourgeoisie that a readiness to permit Social Democracy anything approaching a permanent say in the affairs of state could be discerned. And predictably, the spokesmen of this trend were to be found not in heavy industry, where the Ruhr barons still gravitated to the monarchist right, but in commerce, the professions and intellectual strata. Such was the German Democratic Party, whose strategy of collaborating with the SPD against the threat of revolution while seeking to whittle down the party’s programme to one acceptable to German capitalism, was devised by Max Weber, the prewar pioneer of this policy, and the prominent banker Hjalmar Schacht. It is indeed ironic that the man who not only helped smooth Hitler’s path to power but served him for eight years as Director of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics should have begun his Weimar political career as an outspoken partisan of parliamentary democracy and close collaboration and even coalition with the ‘Marxists’. Yet if we look closely at what he himself says about this period, we will discover that the contradiction is only a formal one. In each case, Schacht the democrat and Schacht the Nazi pursued a clear class line devised for vastly different circumstances.

Schacht’s account of the formation of the DDP is most revealing for the insight it provides into the thinking of the liberal wing of the German bourgeoisie at that parlous period of its history:

My reasons for engaging in political activity were very simple. Throughout the whole of the last year of the war Germany was already in a state of invisible revolution only restrained by the discipline of war. Strikes, heated arguments in factories and Parliament, protest marches – all these were signs which could no longer be ignored. We cudgelled our brains as to what the new Germany would be like which was destined to emerge from this process of revolution. There was no doubt that there would be a swing to the left. But would it be as definite as in Russia where, after a brief struggle, the extremists had prevailed against the moderate groups? Would Germany, in short, turn Bolshevik; would Lenin – as he had already intimated – establish his ultimate headquarters not in Moscow but in Berlin? [18]

We can see that on this question – the possibility of Germany taking the Soviet road – there was almost total agreement between Schacht the banker and Scheidemann the Social Democrat, even though they formulated their views entirely independently of each other. So quite naturally, the Social Democrats became the rallying point for Schacht and his capitalist co-thinkers. In the storm of revolution, the Ebert government was to serve as their lifeline. Let it prattle away about ‘socialisation’ and the end of ‘class rule’. The central task before both the bourgeoisie and the reformist bureaucracy was to smash German Bolshevism and murder the German Lenins:

The danger [of proletarian revolution] was there. No one could foretell how matters would develop once the bonds were broken. Since August 1914 too much political dynamite had accumulated in cellars, back-yards and tenement houses. I asked myself and my friends: what was to be done? ... I met kindred spirits – solicitors, journalists, businessmen, bankers, all were filled with the same anxiety: What was one to do? My reply was: ‘We must prevent the moderates in Germany from falling victim to the extremists. We must endeavour to form a mighty reservoir of all those elements who, without being extremist, are dissatisfied with present conditions. We need a middle-class left which will throw in its lot with the organised workers in the coming coalition government.’ These deliberations led soon afterwards to the founding of the German Democratic Party. [19]

This extremely class-conscious banker also gives a superb picture of the disarray and despondency in the highest level of the bourgeoisie on 9 November 1918, the day the Kaiser fell and Ebert’s government was hoisted into power by Berlin workers. It underlines once more the perfidy of the Social Democrats in rescuing the ruling class at the precise moment in history when it had lost not only the means to rule, but, even in some quarters, the will:

Meanwhile there were increasing signs that the end might come at any moment. On 3 November 1918 the sailors of the main fleet started to mutiny. Spartacists elements had infiltrated the lower decks and hoisted the Red Flag. The revolution began to spread through Germany like wildfire. Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils sprang up from nowhere and took over local authorities... During the early days of November 1918 Berlin prepared for civil war. Barbed wire entanglements appeared in the streets, barricades were erected from overturned vehicles. Shots whistled through the streets in the centre of the town and sent citizens scuttling indoors. No one appeared to have any authority: an armed mob stood ready to seize the helm... [20] Towards midday on 9 November I came out of the Hotel Esplanade-Platz with a friend and saw the first lorries drive across the Potsdamer-Platt filled with heavily-armed Red troops. It was a curious sight. People passed by the lorries looking depressed and indifferent – they did not even glance at them. The Red revolution shouted, brandished their rifles and generally threw their weight about... A very curious, significant scene, expressive of Germany’s disrupted condition – revolution in lorries, apathy in the streets.

In other words, the ‘citizens’, that is, the middle class of Berlin, had accepted the revolution as a fait accompli. And lacking arms, there was little they could do except look depressed and apathetic. Schacht’s narrative continues:

In the face of this incident we changed our direction and made for the Reichstag with the object of finding a member who would enlighten us as to the situation. The great government building was deserted and lifeless... At last we reached the abode of the Liberal Group, that is, the National Liberals, the main party of heavy industry... Inside the room a quavering voice asked: ‘Who is it?’ I recognised it at once – it was Stresemann’s voice. At that time he was the leader of the National Liberal Group in the Reichstag... Have you any recent news? I asked... ‘Revolution’, was Stresemann’s terse reply with a weary gesture. ‘And the Emperor – our Army – the Government – the Police?’ ‘I don’t know’, said Stresemann. ‘I'm the last remaining man in the Reichstag.’ ... Stresemann’s face was grey, his eyes tired, his mouth pinched... ‘And what will happen?’, I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Ebert will probably do something’, he said. ‘Now is his chance. His party is the strongest. If he doesn’t succeed...’ [21]

Yet more ironies! Until August 1914, Stresemann and his class had measured their political fortunes in inverse proportion to the rise of the SPD vote. Now with the old bourgeois party system in ruins – only the confessional Catholic Centre Party was to survive the November Revolution – Stresemann pinned his hopes for capitalist survival on the strength and success of Social Democracy. In 1878, Stresemann’s National Liberals had voted to outlaw Social Democracy. Now it looked to the SPD as a saviour. [22]

Schacht proceeded to outline his political strategy to the demoralised Stresemann:

We must do something, Herr Stresemann. If the left [that is, the SPD] gets the upper hand, well and good. But we must start a middle-class Left Party so that the Socialist majority don’t have everything their own way. A middle-class party with left-wing tendencies, he said. Yes – that might be the way out. We left him. At the time I knew as well as anyone that the great hour for the socialist parties had struck. Their persistent efforts for a negotiated peace, the workers’ tremendous contribution to Germany’s blood-sacrifice and last, but not least, their promises of social improvements would attract masses of electors to their ranks. That would lead to an extreme opposition from the right – as in Russia, which might well develop into a war between ‘Red’ and ‘White’. We must act quickly if we were to achieve anything. [23]

Schacht sought to retard the polarisation of the classes by erecting a middle-class buffer between them, a ‘third force’ which on crucial issues would throw its weight on the side of Social Democracy where and when its leaders were under attack from the left. Likewise, it would counsel caution, restraint and patience to the monarchist-inclined forces in the landlord and big bourgeois camp lest ill-prepared and insufficiently supported attempts to overturn the rule of the reformists resulted in a violent proletarian backlash, a consequent diminishing of the stabilising influence of the much-needed Social Democrats and a corresponding growth in the revolutionary forces. There was also the added danger that without a radical middle-class party to attract the democratic petit-bourgeoisie – and their ranks had swelled enormously as a direct result of their disillusionment with the old regime – they would turn to the SPD in their millions, giving the Ebert leadership an absolute majority in Parliament which would have been as much an embarrassment to them as to their bourgeois opponents. For such a majority would have stripped away the last excuse the reformists in fact employed to justify their refusal to proceed with the SPD’s programme of socialisation – that such measures would be undemocratic in that they lacked the support of a majority of the Reichstag. [24]

In normal times, parties can take years to gestate and formulate their programmes. But in the white heat of revolution, men accomplish in hours what would otherwise take decades. On 9 November, the Kaiser fell, and with it the constellation of Junker and bourgeois parties which had revolved around the throne of the Hohenzollerns for nearly half a century. On 11 November, the first of the Republic’s new bourgeois parties was born, displaying a countenance that, if not exactly republican, was at least committed to the formal supremacy of parliament.

That the new party equivocated on this issue was largely due to Schacht’s own intervention in the discussion on the DDP’s declaration of principles. As he himself relates:

Theodor Wolff [of the liberal Berliner Tageblatt – RB] read out his proclamation which began with the words: ‘We are republicans...’ ‘Stop!’, I interrupted. ‘I can’t sign that. I'm a monarchist.’ General astonishment. How, the others demanded, could a monarchist be a co-founder of a Democratic Party? ... ‘There are quite a few constitutional monarchies in the world which are democratically governed...’ Theodor Wolff gave in and began again. This time the sentence ran: ‘We base our standpoint on republican principles.’ I signified my agreement. [25]

And so the would-be German bourgeois democrats, like so many of their ancestors, still recoiled in horror from the prospect of a total and final rupture with the feudal institution of hereditary monarchy. [26] This farcical scene took place at the founding meeting of the DDP, among whose most prominent early supporters, were, apart from Schacht and Wolff, the proprietors of the liberal Frankfurter Zeitung, the industrialist Walther Rathenau, Max Weber the sociologist, and Hugo Preuss the legal authority and historian. Although their views differed widely on a range of questions, they were all united on the need to pursue a policy of rapprochement with the leaders of Social Democracy. Thus Preuss (who was soon to be charged with the task of drawing up the new republic’s constitution) wrote in the Berliner Tageblatt on 14 November 1918:

We have the hope of escaping the dreadful shift from Red Terror to White only if a strong, energetic movement is formed within the German middle class, based candidly on events that have occurred, but not docile in the face of new authorities, and... only if these new authorities welcome the collaboration of this movement and tender it full equality of responsibility.

Again one cannot help but comment on the contrast between this strategy, so successful in the period during and immediately after the November Revolution, and that pursued by the Nazis in the last years of the Weimar Republic (in the case of Schacht, he actively participated in both). German fascism also sought to build ‘a strong, energetic movement within the middle class’, not, however, to buttress the Social Democrats, but to crush them, and with the SPD the entire organised power of the German proletariat. In both cases, the social basis of these movements was the petit-bourgeoisie, emphasising the truth of the contention that despite differences in policy and ideology, liberalism and fascism arise on the same class foundation. [27]

Nevertheless Schacht had good reason to commend himself on the success of his counter-revolutionary manoeuvrings when he wrote many years later:

The surmises we had entertained in connection with the formation of the DDP came to pass. The Social Democrats failed to obtain a majority in the National Assembly. The DDP secured 74 seats, and at a critical juncture ensured that socialist theories were not applied in too one-sided a fashion. The Social Democrats were compelled to form a Coalition Government with the middle-class left. [28] The DDP produced two ministers [Preuss and Rathenau] who were invaluable in helping to establish a gradual and continuous political development in place of an extremist upheaval. [29]

Schacht wrote these lines some 10 years after the end of the Second World War. They differ little from the judgement made much closer to the events in question, in his book The Stabilisation of the Mark, published in 1927:

The spectre of Bolshevism, more menacing then ever, suddenly raised its head. The bourgeois element was entirely excluded by the revolutionary government from power; and the only question was whether the extremist form of socialism in more or less Bolshevik shape, or the more moderate form of socialism which clung to democratic forms of government, would prevail... It may be said that it was primarily the efforts of the DDP which gave the non-socialist elements (and especially the parties standing further to the right whose leaders completely disappeared from view in the first moments of the collapse) the courage once more to assert themselves, and in the elections to the National Assembly left the Social Democrats and other elements still further to the left in a minority. [30]

And Schacht was not exaggerating when he said the leaders of the old right-wing parties were nowhere to be seen in the first days of the revolution. [31] Hence their temporary, if reluctant acceptance of the Ebert government. Only after some weeks had passed did the leaders of the pre-1914 ‘cartel’ – the National Liberals and the Conservatives – begin to pull themselves together. The blunting of the council movement meant that Germany was due to pass through a phase, however short and insecure, of parliamentary government, and that necessitated, if the centre and left parties were not to carry all before them, a new approach to the problem of seeking support amongst the masses for reactionary policies. For a short time it seemed as if Stresemann and his National Liberals might throw in their lot with Schacht’s DDP (which was in fact an updated version of the old Progressive Party), but at the last moment he baulked at what he regarded as being its over-eagerness to collaborate with the SPD. Stresemann’s party was, we should bear in mind, the main party of heavy industry, and as such it still looked on the ‘Marxists’ with grave misgivings. [32]

Stresemann himself was inhibited from following Schacht’s policy not only by the interests of heavy industry, but his own subjective attitudes, which had been shaped in the pre-1914 period when throne, sword and altar were the holy trinity of all decent ‘national’ Germans. He therefore regarded the revolution of 9 November as an act of monumental betrayal, or as he put it some months afterwards, ‘the death day of Germany’s greatness in the world’. In fact Stresemann had been subjected to the crowning humiliation of being marched out of the Reichstag building on that day by a squad of armed workers. A week later, he agreed to take his tottering party, the National Liberals, into a merger with the Progressives to fight on a united platform against the Social Democrats. But Schacht had meanwhile succeeded in winning them over to his line of guarded collaboration with reformists. This left Stresemann with little alternative but to launch his old party under a new label more suited to the nature of the times – the German People’s Party (DVP), which he did on 22 November. But Stresemann’s problems were far from over. Seeing that he had broken off negotiations with the DDP, leaders of the Junker Conservatives, who were even more isolated from the masses than the DVP, approached Stresemann with a view to forming a monarchist, anti-parliamentary and openly counter-revolutionary right-wing party. But again, Stresemann found himself unable to undertake such a fusion.

Although a monarchist, [33] he realised more clearly than the old Conservative leaders that restoration of the Hohenzollerns was a lost cause for the foreseeable future, and that the only realistic policy was to win as much popular support as was possible for the banner of moderate – moderate, that is, in terms of German bourgeois politics – conservatism. Right from the beginning, the new party was plagued with constant conflicts and periodic splits. And this was scarcely surprising, since under Stresemann’s leadership it sought to reconcile not only sections of the big bourgeoisie which were fundamentally opposed to each other over political strategy and tactics, but the big bourgeoisie as a whole with the party’s main mass of voters – the propertied middle and small bourgeoisie. And yet few could have been better suited for such a thankless task, since Stresemann, although a man of impeccable bourgeois pedigree, stood midway between the Ruhr industrialists of his party who provided it with most of its funds – the Vöglers and the Stinnes – and the small and medium employers in light industry who provided it with the majority of its votes. Stresemann was himself the owner of a medium-sized light manufacturing enterprise, and sat on several boards of other small firms in the Berlin area. But in the course of his business and political career he had succeeded in becoming the spokesman for wider economic interests, and even while leader of the DVP, still sat on the boards of two of Germany’s most influential employers’ organisations – the Association of Saxon Industrialists and the National League of Industry. His balancing act on the tightrope that was the internal politics of German big business typified the dilemmas confronting those bourgeois politicians and statesmen who sought to defend the interests of all property owners without either becoming ensnared in the embrace of organised heavy industry, or stoking up the fires of a petit-bourgeois revolt against the entire Weimar political structure.

We have already noted that Stresemann was a monarchist by tradition and by conviction, and yet, despite all previous protestations to the contrary, by the time of the DVP’s founding Congress in April 1919 he was prepared to accept republicanism as a permanent feature of German politics, telling delegates that ‘we must be clear about one thing, that Greater Germany can only be reconstructed on a republican basis’. This apparent change of heart was almost certainly due to the DVP’s poor showing at the January elections. It managed, despite its hastily assumed populist nomenclature, to assemble a mere 4.4 per cent of the total poll, while the more strident monarchism of the DNVP – which Stresemann had no intention of emulating – had gained just over twice that amount. Even taken together, the two sole survivors and representatives of the ancien régime cut a sorry figure, winning between them a paltry 4.5 million votes, less than 15 per cent of the total cast. How far the cause of monarchy and traditionalist nationalism had lost ground in Germany can be appreciated by comparing these results with the returns for the last prewar election to the Reichstag, when together the National Liberals, Conservatives, Free Conservatives and anti-Semites secured very nearly twice that proportion. However unpalatable it might have been to Stresemann and his DVP colleagues, the truth had to be faced that there was no political force visible on the horizon that could dislodge the Social Democrats and their bourgeois radical allies from their preponderant position either in the National Assembly, where they exercised an absolute majority over all the other parties combined, or indeed at the lower and local echelons of the machinery of government. Neither was there a sign as yet of that ground swell of petit-bourgeois disillusionment with Weimar democracy which would soon begin to disrupt the precarious compromise effected between the reformists and the leaders of bourgeois liberalism at the time of the Revolution. A year after the elections, when sections of the DNVP leadership were already heavily committed to supporting the abortive military coup of Wolfgang Kapp, Stresemann rejected an offer from DNVP leader Albrecht von Grafe to form a united front of their two parties against the ‘Weimar bloc’ of the SPD, DDP and Centre:

It seems to me that the immediate task at hand in our political development is to eliminate the Social Democrats’ present overwhelming influence and to reduce it to more modest proportions. A government without the Social Democrats during the next two to three years seems to me to be quite impossible since otherwise [that is, if it is forced into opposition – RB] we shall stagger along from general strike to general strike. There is a very real danger that the two Peoples’ parties [that is, the DVP and DNVP – RB] will withdraw into the sulking corner for many years if they do not at once receive a voice in government proportionate to their numerical strength... The danger is great that the [state] bureaucracy will be progressively alienated from us or replaced by persons from hostile parties, and that the people will become accustomed on a permanent basis to the rule of the present-day majority parties.

Stresemann’s refusal to join with the DNVP in an anti-Weimar united front – a bloc principally directed against the SPD – caused much trouble in the leadership and ranks of his own party. Albert Vögler, a director of the steel trust [34] and a future supporter of the Nazis, was especially vocal in opposing Stresemann’s moderate policies, and called for the united front offer to be taken up. In fact Vögler’s views and those of several other heavy industrialists in the DVP – were in many ways far closer to the hard-line policies of the DNVP, and in fact some of them defected to it as they became progressively more critical of Stresemann’s middle-of-the-road orientation, which year by year brought the DVP closer and closer to open collaboration with the Social Democrats.

Moving even further to the right we do indeed come to the DNVP, the revived corpse – and sometimes a pretty virulent one at that – of that old pillar of Bismarckian and Hohenzollern Prussia, the Conservatives. And we shall see that even this party could not ignore the magnetic attraction exerted on its more plebeian supporters by the power of the proletarian movement in the early weeks of the Republic. Moves anticipating the foundation of a more populist-oriented version of the old party were made several days before the fall of the Empire. On 7 November the inner executive of the largely defunct Conservative Party met under the chairmanship of Count Westarp to draft a statement of principles for the proposed new organisation. It too, like the DDP’s and the DVP’s manifestos and proclamations, paid lip-service to the new spirit abroad amongst even those who had previously been the most politically backward of Germany’s population. The DNVP appeal, issued on 22 November 1918, declared that the new party was ‘ready to cooperate with all parties that share our aim to heal the wounds inflicted by the war on our sorely tried fatherland, and to restore law and order’. But whose law and order? Certainly not that of the Junkers, whose military-bureaucratic machine was at that time patently unable to exercise it. So making the painful but inescapable adjustment to the demands of political reality, the appeal demanded, in the most un-Junker-like fashion, a ‘return from the dictatorship of a single class to the parliamentary form of government which alone is possible after recent events’. Only the rule of the ‘single class’ was not the Junkers, who had enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the exercise of political power under the empire for nearly half a century, but the proletariat, whose council system threatened to sweep them away.

The East Elbian barons and landlords had not given up hope of restoring their old privileges in the exercise of state power, but they had sense enough to realise – at least some of them – that until the Ebert government had performed its initial allotted role of smothering and beating back the revolution, even they had to resort to the language of democracy. The DNVP was also compelled to present itself, as its name suggests, as a ‘people’s party’, much as its more moderate monarchist rival, the DVP, had done. But beneath the hastily revamped image of a party sympathetic to parliamentary democracy there remained the class features of the old chauvinist, anti-Semitic right. Sometimes the two faces of the party were combined in a single policy statement, as in the case of a DNVP leaflet issued in Berlin for the elections to the National Assembly:

No class domination ought to decide the future of our people. All classes must be represented in the National Assembly. No wealthy foreign race should continue to abuse its power behind the scenes. Germany must be governed by us Germans.

And for good measure, the leaflet rounded off this diatribe against proletarian rule and the Jews – combined, it should be noted, with support for the National Assembly – with a thrust at that other Junker whipping boy, the Catholic Church: ‘No Romanist intrigues are going to rob us of our heritage of the reformation. Protestant spirit must remain strong in the fatherland.’ [35]

But the DNVP’s attempt to recapture its old following among the small propertied classes – artisans and peasants in the main – necessitated a more radical social policy than the old Conservatives (with the exception of those who leaned towards Stöcker’s brand of ‘social’ Christianity), had been prepared to risk. The self-styled ‘Christian Socialist’ wing of the new party, led by Siegfried von Kardorff, soon antagonised Westarp and the DNVP’s chairman, Oskar Hergt, with their insistence on the need to attune the nationalist movement to at least some of the social and economic demands of the petit-bourgeoisie and peasantry. Westarp and Hergt, nationalists of the old school, were far more intent on representing the interests of the big agrarians and heavy industrialists than emulating or outdoing their rivals in social demagogy. They could not at that stage see that the one by no means excluded the other. Here the influence of the press magnate and former Krupps director Alfred Hugenberg was decisive. This future ally of Hitler, together with Gustav Rosicke, head of the highly influential agrarian organisation, the Bund der Landwirte, were the chief contributors to the party’s coffers, and saw to it that they and the big-propertied interests they represented called the tune. Those elements in the party allied with the Christian Socialist movement and the white-collar workers’ organisation, the Deutschenationaler Handlungsgehilfen Verband, were viewed by the majority of its leadership as vote-catchers without any right to a say in shaping DNVP policy. As a result, many of these plebeian supporters of the party turned elsewhere after the crisis of 1929 when it became clear that under the Hugenberg leadership, the nationalists were functioning purely as a mouthpiece for the interests of heavy industry and the big landowners. From a peak of 6.2 million in December 1924, the DNVP vote slumped to 2.6 million in the crisis elections of September 1930. The bulk of these losses had, without the least shadow of doubt, accrued to the Nazis, who not only equalled them in nationalist fervour, but completely outclassed them in the use of social demagogy aimed at the DNVP’s main source of support – the artisans, small traders, clerks and peasants.

This is not to say that there existed no points of contact between the DNVP and the ‘social’ ultra-right. The Pan-Germans and old monarchists shared the Nazis’ hatred of Weimar and the parties which dominated it in the republic’s early years. Thus the Pan-German Congress held at Bamburg in February 1919 declared its undying loyalty to the overthrown regime and political system:

The events after 9 November proved unmistakably that a nation like ours, which so obviously lacks political instincts, is not made for the republican form of government. It should entrust its fate to a firm leadership, such as a monarchy can supply much more effectively than a republic... we shall always propagate the Kaiser sentiment. [36]

The manifesto also, very much on lines that the Nazis were later to follow, called for a ‘planned racial superiority of the German nation by selection of, and help for, all those persons who are gifted in the good old German manner...’. They would ‘fight against all those powers which hamper and harm the racial development of our nation, especially the predominance of the Jews in all cultural and economic fields’.

It was not surprising therefore that this manifesto, drafted in a spirit of raging hatred for the most elementary forms of bourgeois democracy, declared that the Pan-German League had ‘no confidence in the present government nor does it consider the present state as adequate for the German nation’. And to develop a counterweight to the new state which they so despised, the Pan-Germans together with the DNVP and smaller monarchist associations, formed the ultra-right-wing paramilitary veterans’ organisation, the Steel Helmet or Stahlhelm, founded at the end of 1918 under the leadership of Franz Seldte (Seldte became Minister of Labour in the Nazi – Nationalist coalition of January 1933, a post he held to the fall of the Third Reich in 1945). Though never becoming a battering ram against the workers’ movement in the way that the more plebeian-based Nazi Storm Troops did, the Stahlhelm certainly served as a breeding and training ground for many former officers who subsequently passed over into the ranks of National Socialism.

Continuing this review of the parties and movements which comprised the German body politic at the time of the foundation of the Weimar Republic, we must turn to that enigmatic organisation, the Catholic Centre Party. This party’s commitment to the Weimar Republic was at best equivocal, [37] even though it provided a minister for every cabinet until the formation of von Papen’s ‘non-party’ administration in May 1932. (Ironically, the man who ended the Centre Party’s unbroken run was himself a Catholic!) And the reasons are not hard to find. Although founded in 1870 as a defensive measure by the Catholic bourgeoisie and hierarchy to ward off Bismarck’s offensive against ‘Roman’ influences (the so-called Kulturkampf), the party never embraced consistently democratic views. It fought only for its own sectional, confessional interests, even though in so doing it found it convenient on occasions to make common cause with others oppressed by Protestant – Junker Berlin.

By very virtue of its being a confessional party, the Centre found it necessary to project a ‘social’ image towards the Catholic working class and, to a lesser extent, the artisans and poorer sections of the peasantry. Catholic workers were for some time insulated from Social Democratic influence through their organisation into Christian ‘trade unions’, which while claiming to represent the special interests of the workers, in fact spent much of their time attacking Marxist socialism and class-based trade unionism and defending the rights of private property. But at the same time, the Centre was not averse to indulging in a little of what Marx and Engels had termed in the Communist Manifesto feudal or clerical socialism. The founding Centre Party programme declared that one of its aims would be to ‘maintain this middle class in the midst of perils created by the doctrines of political economy, by industrialism, by complete occupational freedom and by the power of capital...’. And by middle class the manifesto of course meant the hundreds of thousands – indeed millions – of artisans, peasants and other independent small producers who were already beginning to feel the pressure of Germany’s industrial growth. Thus there evolved a ‘guild socialist’ wing to the Centre which its leaders not only tolerated but encouraged as an indispensable counterpoise to the rapidly expanding Social Democratic political and trade union movement. Its targets were liberalism both political and economic, Marxism, and large-scale industry and banking. Thus Franz Hitze, an early pioneer of Centre Party guild socialism, wrote in 1880: ‘The guild is to absorb all associations having any connection with handicraft, and the whole social life of the craftsman is to be concentrated in the guild.’ The guild would ‘overcome the anarchy of production’ and create ‘a new society of social responsibility through the conquest of egotism’.

Such a guild socialism was not therefore unlike the ‘people’s community’ – the community interest before self-interest – of National Socialism, and indeed there is much evidence to suggest that the former helped to shape the latter. And as also with National Socialist economic and social theory, capitalism was not so much to be abolished as regulated in accordance with a (spurious) harmony of class interests. Instead of a labour movement which ‘is a tearing loose, a secession from the rest of society’, trade unionism ‘would be a joining on, it would be only one organisation among many’:

The other, more conservative estates would show the workers the path... and the state would compel the workers to set themselves common goals and to put their own house in order alongside the ordered regiment of capital. [Emphasis added]

With the aid of this social as well as clerical ‘cement’, the Centre succeeded remarkably well in smoothing over the many class and sectional divisions within the party. And of course, the bitterly anti-Catholic attitude of the state Lutheran Church greatly assisted its leaders in this work. The solidity of the ‘vertical’ Catholic bloc is evident from the steady vote the Centre Party received in all the elections under the Empire. In 1871, barely a year after its formation, it secured 0.7 million votes and 63 deputies. In 1874, its vote had doubled and its Reichstag representation had been raised to 93. From then until the last elections of 1912, the Centre Party vote and Reichstag strength remained almost constant, the latter varying between a low of 91 and a peak of 106. Unlike the Conservatives, National Liberals and Progressives, the party survived the upheavals of November 1918, and in the elections of January 1919 polled 5.9 million votes with 91 Reichstag deputies, thus becoming the second largest party to the SPD. And as such, it could not but avoid taking some sort of stand on the new political system ushered in by the November Revolution. Naturally, a party that functioned as the political arm of an immensely powerful, rich and entrenched caste [38] commanding widespread support in all classes of the population could not but look on the events of November 1918 and the rise to political power of the atheistic ‘Marxists’ with some trepidation. Indeed, Cardinal Faulhaber regarded the November Revolution as ‘perjury and high treason’, a view shared by the majority of the German hierarchy. Yet the Centre could not afford to adopt an openly hostile or abstentionist attitude to the system that had issued out of this ‘crime’.

If the Centre set itself squarely against collaboration with the SPD, it ran the very real danger of losing much of its proletarian support in the Ruhr, where Catholic workers had joined with their socialist and communist class brothers in a united struggle against the old regime. And in fact this process had already begun. With each passing year, the Centre increasingly became a party depending upon female support, roughly 60 per cent of its vote coming from women once they were enfranchised under the Weimar Constitution (they also voted in the elections to the Constituent National Assembly). A confidential report submitted to the Vatican after the 1928 Reichstag elections by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, Papal Secretary of State, and, after 1939, the pro-fascist Pope Pius XII, revealed the alarming situation for the hierarchy that from a high of 85 per cent in 1875, the proportion of Catholic males voting for the Centre had dropped to 65 per cent by 1907, 55 per cent in 1912, 48 per cent in 1919 and a calamitous 39 per cent in 1928. Confronted with this steady erosion of Catholic political influence amongst the proletariat – for in rural regions the situation was understandably very different – the leaders of the Centre opted for a policy of support for the new regime, exploiting their strong bargaining position in the Reichstag (they held the balance between left and right) to secure the protection of their own sectional interests in educational and other matters.

Far better to enter the Cabinet with the godless Marxists, many reasoned, and to temper their reforming zeal, than to permit them to function alone or with their equally secular-minded DDP allies. So in the first Weimar cabinet under SPD Chancellor Scheidemann (Ebert had meanwhile been voted President by the National Assembly), the Centre joined with the DDP as the Social Democrats’ partners in the ‘great coalition’. But all was far from sweetness and light in the Catholic camp. We have already noted the attitude of Cardinal Faulhaber, a hard-line opponent of Weimar. Even more significant, in view of his subsequent role as stirrup-holder for the Nazis, was the Catholic Westphalian aristocrat, Franz von Papen. This odious bootlicker of Hitler – he even continued to serve him after his private staff had been butchered by Nazi thugs in the purge of 30 June 1934 – never made any secret of his detestation of all things democratic and tinged with even the pinkest hues of socialism. It was an attitude he maintained up to his death – mourned incidentally by the pro-Tory British press – in 1969. His autobiography provides us with a clear picture of the utterly reactionary mentality of the man who cleared the road to power for Hitler in the summer of 1932.

First, the revolution:

Instead of the thousand-year-old monarchy, the Red Flag had been planted in the centre of Germany. It was the end of everything we had believed in for generations, the disappearance of all we had loved and fought for... Berlin and every other German city was torn by revolution. Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Eisner and their followers were fighting a bitter battle, setting up ‘soviets’ everywhere, against the more reasonable wing of the SPD led by Ebert and Noske. [39] The world I had known and understood had disappeared. The whole system of values into which I had integrated myself and for which my generation had fought and died had become meaningless. [40]

But not quite, for like many of his class and outlook, Papen did not give up all hopes of a monarchist restoration, certainly not of eventually driving the SPD back into opposition and so subverting the Republic in preparation for a more authoritarian type of regime. For while the Social Democrats and their bourgeois radical allies ruled the roost, there was simply no room in the new Germany for dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists. Neither was it a question of attitudes of mind only. Many like Papen realised that the social and economic concessions made to the workers as the price for staving off revolution were not only galling in themselves, but seen as establishing dangerous inroads into the hallowed rights of private property. It was his class consciousness, conceived though it was in romantically-flavoured and aristocratic Catholicism, and not a psychologically-grounded inability to ‘adjust’ to Weimar Germany, that took Papen all the way along the road of opposition to parliamentary democracy and the German labour movement:

The position of trust which we held under the Crown meant that we became conservative by nature. Now everything had changed. All these traditions had been swept away by the Republic, and we were all free to adopt an independent attitude. By background and upbringing I could hardly help being conservative, but even before the war I had found myself out of sympathy with the political development of the Conservative Party... A conservative must always be progressive. Tradition and principles are basic values, but conservatism implies their application to changing circumstances. [41]

Papen represented that section of the west German aristocracy which had successfully branched out or married into industry or allied itself with it. He was therefore critical of the Junker Conservative Party for failing to adjust to the rise of this new centre of economic power in the Reich, and to see that the massive proletariat which had been created by this industrial upsurge could not be countered by the traditional weapons of reaction. Papen’s answer was yet another variant on the old ‘social’ Christianity theme, in the name of which he eventually threw in his lot with the Nazis:

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and at an ever increasing speed in the first half of our century, we have witnessed a gigantic and fundamental conflict... The threat to the body politic has increased with the conversion of individuals into ‘the masses’ – a Marxist weapon in the struggle to overturn the capitalist system. [42] Collectivist philosophies, combined with the materialist conception of history, proclaim the overthrow of those Christian principles which have provided for 2000 years the basis of the Western world’s growth... The problem has been to find some means of combating these forces. In the tumult of the postwar period, the duty of all conservative forces was to rally under the banner of Christianity, in order to sustain in the new Republic the basic conceptions of continuing tradition. The Constitution approved at Weimar in 1919 seemed to many a perfect synthesis of Western democratic ideas. Yet the second paragraph [quoted at the beginning of this chapter – RB] of its first article proclaimed the false philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau – ‘all power derives from the people’. This thesis is diametrically opposed to the teachings and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Over the centuries, the monarchy had represented the highest form of temporal authority in the state, but above it stood the still higher authority of spiritual teachings and Christianity... Ever since the French Revolution and the Contract Social [how the German reaction loathed Rousseau – RB] and its bastard offspring the Communist Manifesto, the transfer from faith to reason has acquired increasing momentum. The philosophy of naked force has replaced the old relationship between power and authority, between reverence and piety on the one hand, and force on the other... Marxism in all its forms has now set force against force, and the power of the masses against the authority of the rulers. [Papen now unveils his own, corporatist, solution, to the ‘social question’ – RB] My father-in-law Privy Councillor von Boch-Galhau, was one of a small group of enlightened industrialists who recognised the inherent evils of the capitalist system. He tried to establish a relationship of mutual confidence between capital and labour, while yet retaining the traditions of a family enterprise. [Sic!] The shadow of class warfare was already on the horizon. The socialists were propagating the principles of Marxism, and, in spite of the social reforms carried out under Kaiser Wilhelm II, were trying to organise the ‘proletariat’ on an international basis and detach the workers as a ‘class’ from the bourgeoisie. Only a few industrialists had grasped the fact that the best way of countering these methods was to assume that besides his wages, the worker should have a share in the prosperity of the enterprise and a dignified and satisfying existence. My father-in-law had been a leader in the provision of well-built modern houses, hostels and holiday estates for his workers, as well as medical care and pension and insurance rights. The results [that is, the weakening of trade union and Marxist influence – RB] proved a striking example of what could be accomplished by applying the principles laid down by Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum. [43]

In fact the Encyclical nowhere attacked the foundation of capitalist exploitation – private ownership of the means of production. Such attacks on capital that it did make – and they came well from the world’s richest private organisation – were of a backward-looking, guild type, with the predictable criticisms of ‘usury’ (though the Vatican was discreet enough not to link this with the Jews):

It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and the poor, of capital and labour. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men’s judgements and to stir up the people to revolt... the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other organisation took their place... Hence by degrees it has come to pass that workingmen have been surrendered... to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless... still practised by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added the custom of working by contract, and the concentration of so many branches of trade in the hands of a few individuals... To remedy these wrongs, the Socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all... But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the workingman himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, because they would rob the lawful possessor, bring state action into a sphere not within its competence, and create utter confusion in the community... Socialists... by endeavouring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his stock and of bettering his condition in life. [44]

Papen was therefore treading on safe ground when he cited Rerum Novarum to bolster his own reactionary political views, all the more so since the encyclical stated quite bluntly what was to be done with those who continued to propagate the socialist doctrines of class struggle and the nationalisation of the means of production:

The great mistake... is to take up with the notion that class is hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the workingmen are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict... Capital cannot do without Labour, nor Labour without Capital... Thus religion teaches the labouring man and the artisan to carry out honestly and fairly all equitable agreements freely entered into; never to injure the property, nor to outrage the person, of an employer, never to resort to violence in defending their own cause, nor to engage in riot or disorder; and to have nothing to do with men of evil principles... It should ever be borne in mind that the chief thing to be realised is the safeguarding of private property by legal enactment and public policy. Most of all it is essential, amid such a fever of excitement, to keep the multitude within the line of duty; for if all may justly strive to better their conditions, neither justice nor the common good allows any individual to seize upon that which belongs to another, or, under the futile and shallow pretext of equality, to lay violent hands on other people’s possessions [’thou shalt not steal’ – from thy exploiter! – RB]... there are not a few [workers] who are imbued with evil principles and eager for a revolutionary change, whose main purpose is to stir up tumult and bring about measures of violence. The authority of the state should intervene to put restraint on such firebrands, to save the working classes from their seditious arts, and protect lawful owners from spoliation. [45]

Guided by this obscurantist outlook, Papen opted to join the Centre Party, even though he did not share the willingness of many of its leaders to partake in the running of the new Republic. It was their ‘social’ policy which appealed to him: ‘As a party of the centre it was essentially one devoted to compromise, and had always pledged itself to interpret the social precepts of Pope Leo XIII.’ [46]

And if we are to believe Papen’s own testimony, it was this same ‘social’ Catholicism which convinced him of the moral justice of Hitler’s early policies:

Hitler sought to put an end to class warfare by granting the working class equal rights in the community. [Sic!] It was the best point in his programme... Class warfare was a Marxist tool and the socialist trade unions were its principle protagonists. The employers’ federations manned the opposing front. If class warfare was to be abolished, then the opposing forces would have to be disbanded. Neither in moral law nor in Christian doctrine is it laid down that the interests of the working class may be represented only by the trade unions. [Both the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church certainly predate the formation of the first trade unions – RB] The trade union organisation have made an overwhelming contribution to raising the standards of the workers, but their purely economic functions had been transmuted by the Marxist parties into a weapon of class warfare. [47] The coalition government of which I was a member went to great pains to build up a new relationship between worker and employer [sic] and between both and the state. Our principle concern was to eliminate class warfare. To achieve this we were prepared to approve the dissolution of the trade unions. There was much in this National Socialist conception which ran parallel to principles familiar to Catholics and enunciated in the Papal Encyclical Quadragisimo Anno... [48] The time may yet come when the principles involved, if put into practice by more moderate and sensible regimes, will prove to contain the germs of a solution. [49]

So much then for Papen, the ‘gentleman horse-rider’ as he liked to regard himself. [50]

How were these contradictory, and in some cases mortally hostile forces, to be reconciled? Excluding the Nazis, who were yet to become a force in German politics – in fact Hitler only joined the German Workers Party towards the end of 1919 – ranged against the Weimar system on the right were die-hard monarchists, DNVP Junkers, militarist and Jew-baiting Pan-Germans, profit-hungry and labour-hating industrialists, anti-democratic Catholics like Papen and Faulhaber, Prussian officers either still on the army payroll or fighting as freelance counter-revolutionaries in the Free Corps, and – and this was to be a most important factor throughout the Republic’s history – a state bureaucracy which from top to bottom remained, both as regards ideas and personnel, the identical state and judicial machine which had served so loyally under the Imperial regime. These men – almost without exception convinced monarchists and opponents of democracy – were now to be called upon to administer ‘the most democratic constitution in the world’. How they saw their role in the new Germany can be illustrated by comparing their partisan reactions to political crimes committed by left and right respectively. Between 1919 and 1922, the judges of Weimar handed down the following sentences for alleged political murders:

Not Convicted3264
Partly Convicted271
Self-confessed murderers acquitted230
Average length of jail term4 months15 years
Fine per murder in marks2(no fines)
Number of executions010

No comment is surely needed on these figures. They speak for themselves, far more loudly and plainly than Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution, which proudly proclaimed that ‘all Germans are equal before the law’.

The same can indeed be said for the entire document. It promised much, yet could allow so little. Thus after beginning with the classic bourgeois-democratic proposition that ‘political authority emanates from the people’, the Weimar Constitution incorporated an escape clause which ensured that in moments of political crisis and decision, it would rest in the hands of – in theory at least – a single man. Bonapartism, the classic form of rule for Germany for so many of the prewar years, was now officially enshrined within a constitution supposedly the last word in modern democracy! To be specific, the whole article in question, the notorious number 48, declared:

If any state [of the German Reich] does not fulfil the duties imposed upon it by the Constitution or the laws of the Reich, the Reich President may enforce such duties with the aid of the armed forces. In the event that the public order and security are seriously disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary for their restoration, intervening if necessary, with the aid of the armed forces. For this purpose he may abrogate temporarily, wholly or in part, the fundamental principles laid down in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 135.

Fundamental indeed, for the rights covered by these articles were respectively personal liberty, the inviolability of the home, secrecy of letters and telephone communications, freedom of the press, the right of assembly, the right of association and the right to own private property. [51]

Thus with a stroke of a President’s pen – for that was all that was needed to revoke these basic rights and liberties of the German people – the groundwork could be laid for the erection of a Bonapartist system of rule, as indeed it was under the regimes of Chancellors Brüning, von Papen and Schleicher, each of whom repeatedly by-passed a deadlocked Reichstag by the use of Article 48; not only as a means of enacting political legislation, but in order to drive down the living standards and wages of the working class. And it should not be forgotten for one moment that the Social Democrats – whose constitution this was – finally found themselves driven out of office in the state of Prussia under this very Article 48, which, they fondly believed, would be invoked only against the enemies, right as well as left, of the Weimar Republic.

Article 48 was included, it is generally believed, on the insistence of Max Weber, one of those charged by the Ebert government with drafting the new constitution. He was determined to have a strong executive authority standing over the legislature, a political structure that had its authoritarian potential multiplied by Article 41, which – again on Weber’s insistence – provided for the President to be elected directly by the population as a whole, thus once more by-passing both parties and parliament. [52]

Finally there were the Weimar constitution’s social and economic clauses, which in many cases, due to the intransigent resistance of the employers, remained little more than dead letters. And those that were implemented had to be fought for and defended in the teeth of bitter resistance by both the right-wing parties and the heavy industrialists, who regarded them as an outrage against the rights of private property. The articles which aroused so much hostility amongst the bourgeoisie were numbers 159, which proclaimed ‘freedom of association for the preservation and promotion of labour and economic conditions’; 161, which established a ‘comprehensive system of [social] insurance’; and 165, which provided for the setting up of works’ councils to make possible the ‘cooperating on an equal footing’ of ‘workers and employees’ with employers ‘in the regulation of wages and of the conditions of labour, as well as in the general development of the productive forces’. This last proved to be the bitterest pill for the employers to swallow, for even though it was but a liberal-reformist sop to workers who had been demanding the nationalisation of the major industrial concerns – this had after all been part of the SPD’s programme – it offended against heavy industry’s slogan of ‘master in the house’. No jumped-up trade union official or seditious shop steward was going to pry into the affairs of a Krupp or a Thyssen if German industry was to have any say in the matter. One can appreciate their horror at Article 165. Part of it ran:

Workers and employees shall, for the purposes of looking after their economic and social interests, be given legal representation in factory workers’ councils, as well as in district workers’ councils and in a workers’ council of the Reich district. Workers’ councils of the Reich shall meet with the representatives of the employers... as district economic councils and as economic councils of the Reich for the purpose of performing economic functions and for cooperation in the execution of the laws of socialisation...

Big business never reconciled itself to Article 165, and it was steadily eroded after 1929, finally to be dispatched, along with all other laws and institutions which presupposed independent working-class organisations, after the Nazis came to power.

And what of opposition to Weimar from the left, the proletarian flank? True, it could be argued that in its early days, this was negligible, since the ‘Spartacist Uprising’ (wrongly so called, for the Spartacist leaders Liebknecht and Luxemburg both opposed it) only actively involved a small fraction of the Berlin working class, as did a similar revolt two months later. But while it is true that mass working-class hostility to the Republic was slow to crystallise and articulate itself – after all, the workers had been instrumental in creating the Republic, so they could hardly be expected to revolt against it en masse when their own leaders stood at its head – organised and widespread opposition to the bourgeois republic did begin to emerge quite early in the new year, as the Ebert government came to rely more and more readily and openly on Noske’s Free Corps scum. In fact it was under their protection that the Constituent Assembly held its first session at Weimar, a small Thuringian town selected by virtue of its relative isolation from the main areas of proletarian strength and militancy. [53]

In fact, working-class disillusionment with Weimar can be measured much in the same fashion as the shift towards the anti-democratic right in the middle class – by voting returns for the pro- and anti-Weimar workers’ parties. The USPD voted against the Weimar Constitution when it was put to the vote in the National Assembly at Weimar, as did, for opposite reasons, the DVP and the DNVP. Thus workers who voted USPD and, after 1920, in increasing numbers, for the KPD, did so fully aware that these two parties were as utterly opposed to the Weimar system as the SPD was in support of it. Thus we arrive at the following picture:

Million votesPro-WeimarAnti-Weimar
Jan 191911.52.3
June 19206.15.0

And if we turn to the balance of forces in the right-wing camp, the same trend emerges:

Million votesPro-WeimarAnti-Weimar
DDP + CentreDVP + DNVP

Thus a year after the National Assembly voted by 262 to 75 to adopt the proposed new constitution, the Weimar majority which had seemed so stable had melted away to be replaced by an anti-Weimar majority in the Reichstag of three, and if the Catholic Bavarian People’s Party is excluded from the Weimar bloc, of 24. Weimar was built on quicksands: economically, socially and politically. In the end only the Social Democrats remained faithful to it as, one by one, the SPD’s bourgeois allies, their mass following almost completely eroded by the magnetic pull of Nazi counter-revolutionary dynamism, threw in their lot with Hitler. DDP, Centre and DVP – all voted for Hitler’s Enabling Act, which authorised him to outlaw the SPD and the trade unions fully within limits prescribed by the Weimar Constitution. No doubt the leaders of Social Democracy thought they were scaling the heights of tactical subtlety when, acting as accomplices of the bourgeoisie, they derailed the German revolution by counterposing trade union recognition against expropriation, parliamentary democracy against council rule and social welfare against the dictatorship of the proletariat. But their bourgeois allies of 1918 had the final word, since the reformists not only succeeded in strangling the revolution, but, in so doing, opened the door for the reaction that was to sweep away the very concessions which they had used to camouflage their treachery.


1. The colours of the overthrown Hohenzollern monarchy.

2. K Marx and F Engels, ‘The Manifesto of the Communist Party’, Selected Works (Moscow, 1962), Volume 1, p 54.

3. Which began as a protest against the rapacious treaty of Brest Litovsk which the Imperial regime had just forced on an almost defenceless revolutionary Russia.

4. Lenin detected this tendency in the Conservative-inspired revolt of the Ulster loyalists under Sir Edward Carson, and wrote about it with great perception in his article ‘Constitutional Crisis in Britain’ (10 April 1914), where he speaks of Carson’s supporters as ‘revolutionaries of the right’ on account of their readiness to ‘tear up the British constitution and British law to shreds’ (Collected Works, Volume 20, p 228). By the same token – and also for their reliance on plebeian forces (Carson leaned on wide layers of the Protestant middle and working classes) – the Nazis can be regarded as ‘revolutionaries of the right’.

5. F Engels, Letter to J Bloch, London, 21-22 September 1890, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, nd), p 498.

6. The most profound were the military Kapp Putsch of March 1920, which led directly to a general strike and revolutionary struggles in the Ruhr, Saxony and other industrial regions; the ‘March Action’ of 1921, in which the KPD staged an ill-conceived and adventurist bid to seize power during a sharp strike battle in central Germany; the assassination of DDP Foreign Minister Rathenau in June 1922, which precipitated a one-day general strike, and finally the inflation crisis and the French occupation of the Rhineland, which culminated in the aborted revolutionary situation in the autumn of 1923, and the Hitler putsch a matter of days later.

7. The bulk of which were whittled away – with the tacit support of the SPD – under the Bonapartist regimes of Brüning and von Papen.

8. Prince Max of Baden, Memoirs, Volume 2 (London, 1928), p 351.

9. Even Oswald Spengler, that die-hard enemy of the German workers’ movement, saw the need to temporise with the SPD ‘Marxists’, in order later to prepare a counter-blow against the revolutionary section of the proletariat and finally the entire working class. In a letter written in December 1918, he predicted that ‘the old Prussian element with its incalculable treasures of discipline, organising power and energy will take the lead and that the respectable part of the working population will be at its disposal against anarchism in which the Spartacus group has a remarkable relationship with left liberalism of the Jewish newspapers [the ‘Jewish conspiracy’ yet again – RB]... Germany has first to suffer for its sins... until finally... the Terror has brought to a head such a degree of excitement and despair that a dictatorship, resembling that of Napoleon, will be regarded universally as a salvation. But then blood must flow, the more the better. First of all force, the reconstruction, not through the agency of the dilettantism of political majorities, but by the superior tactics of the few who are born for and destined to politics.’ And these lines were written more than 14 years before Spengler’s ‘Napoleon’ (or Caesar) acted out this scenario!

10. The ‘Working Alliance Agreement’.

11. The relative strength of the parties was SPD 289 delegates (60 per cent), USPD 90 (20 per cent), delegates without party affiliation 74 (15 per cent) and smaller groups 25 (five per cent). There were but 10 Spartacists in the USPD delegation.

12. Voting on the two resolutions was as follows. To hold elections to a Constituent National Assembly on 19 January: 400 for, 50 against. To vest all power in the councils: 98 for, 344 against. Thus 48 delegates voted for both resolutions!

13. Political Institutions of the German Revolution (New York, 1966), p 214.

14. Political Institutions of the German Revolution, p 223.

15. A request to admit the Spartacist leaders to the congress – they were not elected as delegates – was turned down by a large majority.

16. The USPD wanted a parliamentary republic with workers’ councils, and now counter-revolutionary troops without any ammunition!

17. This plan provided for the most draconian punishments against revolutionary workers: ‘Whoever is found in possession of arms without a licence is to be shot... Whoever assumes an official function without authorisation is to be shot... [etc, etc]’ It was implemented in the wholesale repressions of workers during the ‘Spartacist Uprising’ of January 1919.

18. H Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years (London, 1955), p 148. It is all the more significant in that in his earlier career as a director of the Dresdner Bank (which he left in 1915 to join the smaller but highly influential Nationalbank für Deutschland) Schacht had built up a highly confidential network of contacts both formal and informal with leaders of German industry, among them Karl Friedrich von Siemens (Electric Trust), August Thyssen and Hugo Stinnes (heavy industry) and Herr Schlitter, manager of the Deutsche Bank. And his more discreet operations as an adviser to members of the royal houses enabled Schacht to enjoy intimate relations with, among others, the Princes Hohenlohe-Orhingen and Furstenberg, both of whom had badly burned their fingers in highly speculative undertakings. All in all, Schacht was admirably suited to be entrusted with the onerous task of launching a party whose prime aim was to ensnare the SPD in a reformist – liberal coalition. With such a background and class pedigree, there was little chance of Schacht being sucked into a policy of ‘socialisation’. Schacht’s business and social connections were equally valuable a decade later when he turned towards his new allies – the Nazis.

19. Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years, pp 148-49.

20. Hitler’s scorn for bourgeois political leaders in this period knew no bounds: ‘After the revolution, when the bourgeois parties suddenly reappeared, though with modified firm names, and their brave leaders crawled out of the concealment of dark cellars and airy storerooms, like all the representatives of such formations, they had not forgotten their mistakes and likewise they had learned nothing new. Their political programme lay in the past, in so far as they had not reconciled themselves at heart with the new state of affairs; their aim, however, was to participate if possible in the new state of affairs, and their sole weapons remained, as they had always been, words. Even after the revolution, the bourgeois parties at all times miserably capitulated to the streets.’ (A Hitler, Mein Kampf (London, 1943), p 531)

21. Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years, pp 149-50.

22. And to anticipate the completion of this cycle: before going into voluntary liquidation under the Third Reich, its successor the DVP (German People’s Party) had its two surviving Reichstag deputies cast their votes for Hitler’s Enabling Act, under which the Social Democrats, squeezed dry of the last drop of treachery, were outlawed once again.

23. Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years, p 150.

24. The elections to the Constituent National Assembly on 19 January 1919 gave the two workers’ parties – the SPD and the USPD – a combined vote of 13 826 400, which amounted to 45.5 per cent of the total poll. Schacht’s DDP, on a programme that approached closely that of the SPD, secured 5 641 800 votes – 18.6 per cent of the total. Thus it would have required only a minority of the democratic middle-class vote to have gone to the SPD (or even the USPD) to give the workers’ parties an absolute majority in Parliament. Schacht’s strategy had worked brilliantly since the reformists could now claim that they had no alternative but to form a ‘centre-left’ coalition with the DDP and the Catholic Centre Party. This alliance became known as the ‘Great Coalition’ even though it later included the solidly big-bourgeois DVP of Stresemann.

25. Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years, pp 151-52.

26. Even though the deposed Kaiser had already fled Germany to seek exile in Holland.

27. The DDP vote, which in 1919 made it Germany’s third largest party after the SPD and the Centre, declined in direct proportion to the growth of middle-class disillusionment with the Republic. Former DDP voters steadily moved to the right, often through the DVP, then the openly monarchist DNVP and finally, after the onset of the economic and political crisis in 1929, into the ranks of National Socialism. This dramatic shift of the German petit-bourgeoisie through the entire spectrum of German bourgeois politics, marking as it did the break-up of the so-called ‘middle ground’, the foundation of class collaboration and compromise, can be depicted graphically. (The Economic Party appealed specifically to small businessmen. It was bitterly hostile to the Republic, and not averse to employing anti-Semitic propaganda.)

 Votes (in millions)
1924 (May)
1924 (Dec)
1932 (July)
1932 (Nov)

28. Schacht retired from active politics after the elections of 19 January, only to surface again in the midst of the economic crisis which erupted in the United States and rapidly sent industry and banking spiralling downwards towards disaster. Now Schacht appeared in a new role – contact man between big business and the Nazis.

29. Schacht, My First Seventy-Six Years, pp 152-53.

30. H Schacht, The Stabilisation of the Mark (London, 1927), pp 36-38.

31. Stresemann’s paralysis and abject despair was typical of the old monarchist Right.

32. Some captains of industry were, however, more adventurous. As early as 17 October 1918, Carl Duisberg of the Chemical Trust wrote to a friend to tell him that ‘from that day when I saw that the cabinet system was bankrupt, I greeted the change to a parliamentary system with joy... where it is possible I work hand-in-hand with the trade unions and seek in this way to save what can be saved... I am an opportunist and I adjust to things as they are.’ But Duisberg cannot be regarded as typical of industry, since he supported the DDP and helped to finance its most sympathetic voice in the newspaper world, the Frankfurter Zeitung, which on 14 November 1918 had excelled all other bourgeois democrats in declaring: ‘The new Germany must be radical and socialist to the core... Only with a radical programme can the middle class dare to engage in politics with a prospect of success... The bourgeoisie must be radical or it will cease to be.’ And Duisberg, like Schacht, was soon to change his tune. In a speech to the 1925 Conference of the Federation of German Industry, he stated: ‘Be united, united, united. This should be the uninterrupted call to the parties in the Reichstag. We hope that our words of today will work, and will find the strong man who will finally bring everyone under one umbrella, for he is always necessary for us Germans, as we have seen in the case of Bismarck.’

33. In a letter dated 6 January 1919, Stresemann declared: ‘I have emphasised in almost every one of my campaign meetings that I was a monarchist, am a monarchist and shall remain a monarchist.’ And on the 27th of the same month, he sent, together with other DVP leaders, a birthday greetings telegram to ex-Kaiser Wilhelm which ended: ‘Millions of Germans, even under new circumstances and on a new foundation of political life, join us in acknowledging the monarchist principle and will oppose any unworthy renunciation of the high ideals of the German Empire and the Prussian Kingdom.’ Less than four years later Stresemann became Chancellor of a Cabinet which included not only his own DVP, but four members of the SPD and two representatives of the DDP!

34. Vögler regarded his position as one of the DVP’s 19 deputies in the National Assembly as an opportunity to represent not so much his party, even less those who voted for him, but the interests of his own industrial undertakings, which were admittedly considerable. In his maiden speech to the Reichstag he abashed even the most venal of his parliamentary colleagues with his opening words: ‘I speak here as a representative of an industry.’ When the opportunity came to make an end with parliamentary democracy, tycoons like Vögler obviously had no regrets.

35. The Lutheran Protestant Church had for centuries been a most faithful supporter of the Prussian Monarchy, enjoying in its turn the special patronage and protection of the state as against the Catholic Church, traditionally regarded as an arm of ‘Roman’ influence inside Germany. The authority of God was frequently invoked at moments of great crisis for the Reich, both in wars, and revolutions. In March 1918, the Lutheran journal Allgemeine Evangelisch Lutherische justified the rapacious Treaty of Brest Litovsk in the following terms: ‘Russia had to yield up booty in inconceivable quantities. We needed guns and ammunition for the last assault on the enemy in the west. God knew that we needed it. So He gave it to us freely, for God is munificent... If there were still clear-sighted Christians in England they would now have to rise up and cry to their government in fear: “We have had enough, God is fighting for Germany."’ Understandably the revolution loomed in the thinking of such men as the work of the devil himself. The 1848 Revolution had already been roundly condemned by a Lutheran theologian as ‘a breach of loyalty and the graveyard of respect, bringing with it the end of morality and therefore of the freedom and salvation of the people’. The November of 1918 therefore found the Protestants in a state of apoplexy, their feelings being summed up some years later by one of their number, who declared that ‘our chief misfortune has been the Social Democrats, who have made this unnecessary and unbelievably stupid revolution, who have deprived Germany of the fruits of its glorious struggles over four years, who have betrayed our country solely in order to bring their party to power’. Marxism was of course the scourge of all decent, God-fearing Germans. Another theologian stated in 1923: ‘Our political downfall, our entire misery has its roots in Marx’s theory, and this in turn, in Rousseau’s delusion about the nobility of man.’ There was much in Luther’s writings to bolster this line: ‘Because the sword is a very great benefit and necessary to the whole world, to preserve peace, to punish sin and to prevent evil, he [a true Christian – RB] submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays taxes, honours those in authority, serves, helps and does all he can to further the government that it may be sustained and held in honour and fear... you are under obligation to serve and further the sword by whatever means you can, with body, soul, honour or goods... Therefore, should you see that there is a lack of hangman, beadles, judges, lords or princes, and find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the place, that necessary government may by no means be despised and become inefficient or perish. For the world cannot and dare not dispense with it.’ (M Luther, ‘Secular Authority: To What Extent Should It Be Obeyed?’ (1523), Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (New York, 1961), pp 373-75)

36. Though monarchist circles were by no means united in their tactical appreciation of the Ebert government. The Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung was more astute than most when it wrote on 9 November 1918, that ‘the development in the Reich, which threatened to lead to anarchy, could – in the belief of the SPD – be controlled only by certain ultimative demands which would acquiesce the people and lead them back to order. The demand foremost was the abdication of the Emperor. One may grant that the Social Democrats wanted this not only to realise the aims and ambitions of their party, but also to serve the fatherland, which they saw as heading towards perdition [that is, revolution – RB]; only the future can prove whether their decisions will bring the salvation which they themselves – and now all the other parties – expect... It has, for the time being, helped us to get out of a critical situation.’

37. ‘In our opinion, every government enjoys God’s blessing, whether it be monarchic or republican.’ (Centre Party statement of principles, read to the National Assembly on 13 February 1919) This highly ambiguous declaration, derived as it was from Thomist teaching on the state, left the door ajar for future Centre Party adjustments to anti-republican movements and regimes. In this declaration, which heralded the Centre’s collaboration with the ‘atheistic’ SPD, was the germ of the opportunist strategy which permitted the political arm of the hierarchy to vote its unanimous support for Hitler’s Enabling Act on 23 March 1933, which in turn became the constitutional foundation stone for the tyranny of the Third Reich: ‘Render unto Caesar...’

38. In the middle 1920s the German Catholic Church employed more than 20 000 priests – one for every 2000 German Catholics. Its youth organisations, instrumental in indoctrinating young workers against Marxism, had a membership of 1.5 million. There were also associations for a whole host of occupational groups and catering for sports, cultural and other activities. At every level it sought both to duplicate and to counter the organisational methods and influence of Social Democracy. The historian of the Centre Party, Karl Bachem, was entirely justified when he claimed in 1931 that ‘never yet has a Catholic country possessed such a developed system of all conceivable Catholic associations as today’s Germany’. We should add to them the many and richly-endowed Catholic publishing houses, which catered for every class and type of reader from the traditionalist devout Bavarian peasant to the more modern thinking and class-conscious Ruhr miner or steel worker.

39. Even Papen was forced to concede that there were some who wore the ‘Marxist’ label who could be regarded as at least temporary allies. Nevertheless, it was Papen who ousted the ‘reasonable’ SPD leaders from the Prussian state government in July 1932 on the grounds that they were preparing to form a revolutionary united front with the Communist Party.

40. F von Papen, Memoirs (London, 1952), pp 84-90.

41. Von Papen, Memoirs, pp 90-91.

42. Not all ‘Marxists’ were villains however, as Papen explains: ‘As in all times of revolutionary change, the radical parties were in the ascendant, and the various forms of Marxism attracted the largest measure of support. Fortunately for Germany, there were, amongst the Social Democrats, a number of civic-minded leaders like Ebert and Noske, who stood firm against the Bolshevist storm.’ The only problem was that ‘in spite of their statesmanlike attitude, the basic programme of their party still exalted class warfare and the fight against religious influences. The cry for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” was heard from all shades of Marxist opinion even though more moderate policies were actually put into practice.’ Papen was for this reason critical of the Centre Party for remaining in the coalition with the ‘Marxist’ SPD longer than the exigencies of revolutionary upheaval demanded: ‘When our institutions seemed likely to collapse at the end of the war the Zentrum [Centre] undoubtedly did right to combine with the Socialists... They were able to block measures of a too radical nature and prevented Germany from becoming a field for too many socialist experiments. This was a signal contribution to the conduct of our affairs. But the Weimar Coalition of Socialists, Democrats and Zentrum held obstinately to office once the first shock had been countered. In the Central Government, feeble attempts were made from time to time to incorporate representatives of the right-wing parties. In Prussia, however, the Weimar Coalition remained in power without a break from 1918 [until Papen became Chancellor – RB]. The Zentrum could never make up its mind to break with the socialists in order to rescue the right-wing parties from the torpidity of endless opposition. This was one of the major reasons for the collapse of the Weimar brand of democracy [which Papen eagerly helped to bring about – RB] and the growth of Hitler’s party.’ (Von Papen, Memoirs, pp 104-06)

43. Von Papen, Memoirs, pp 91-93.

44. ‘Rerum Novarum: The Condition of the Working Classes’ (15 May 1891), The Papal Encyclicals (New York, 1963), pp 167-68 (Nihil Obstat John A Goodwine, JCD, Censor Librorum, Imprimatur Cardinal Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York). The canard also used by fascism that socialists seek to collectivise the personal possessions of the worker as well as the productive property of the bourgeoisie and big landowners, is answered by Marx in Capital, where he writes: ‘The capitalist mode of appropriation is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets... its own negation... This does not re-establish private property for the producer but gives him individual property based on the acquisitions of the capitalist era: that is, on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and the means of production. The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labour into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process incomparably more protracted, violent and difficult, than the transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers, in the latter we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.’ (K Marx, Capital, Volume 1, pp 764-65)

45. ‘Rerum Novarum’, pp 174-84, emphasis added.

46. Von Papen, Memoirs, p 97.

47. Papen’s views were identical to Hitler’s on this question – see Chapters VIII and IX.

48. This Encyclical, On Reconstructing the Social Order, dates from 1931, and was promulgated by Pius XI. It updates and expands on Rerum Novarum, criticising certain ‘excesses’ of capitalist exploitation while intransigently upholding the sacred rights of private property. It went further in that it proposed a thoroughly fascist solution to the problem of the class struggle: ‘The complete cure will not come until this opposition [of the classes] has been abolished and well-ordered members of the social body – industries and professions – are constituted in which men may have their place, not according to the position each has in the labour market but according to the respective social functions which each performs.’ In other words, the corporate state which, had Pope Pius XI cared to look out of his Vatican windows, he would have seen being put into brutal practice by the atheist Mussolini’s fascist regime. Papen, who enjoyed the most intimate relations with the Vatican – it was he who more than any other member of Hitler’s government smoothed the way for the Concordat between Rome and the Third Reich – leaves no room for doubt on this issue: ‘Once the parties had disappeared [sic!] it became necessary to organise the democratic system on another basis, founded on the groups of trades and professions which formed the backbone of the nation. The corporate state has long been an element in Catholic social philosophy, and in many ways represents an improvement on the party system.’ (Von Papen, Memoirs, p 259, emphasis added)

49. Von Papen, Memoirs, pp 283-84.

50. Let it be noted here that like that other man of breeding, the banker Schacht, Papen escaped scot free at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, despite a mountain of evidence, documentary, as well as oral, of their both having not only been complicit in aiding Hitler’s rise to power, but ready to share in the spoils of victory. Inveterate enemies of Marxism and labour both, their responsibility for the hideous crimes of German fascism was not one wit less than those who paid with their lives. Like convicted war criminal Alfred Krupp, whose company grew rich on the profits extracted from Soviet and Jewish slave labour, and who conducted board meetings in his own cell, they were doubtless thankful that class justice, which Papen demagogically decried in his Nazi days, applied even to the most monumental crime committed in the history of mankind.

51. Article 48 was never once, in all the times it was employed, invoked to violate the property rights of the bourgeoisie. It was used, however, to seize and impound the property of the workers’ movement – that is, newspapers, membership lists and the like.

52. Although chosen to assist Preuss in drawing up the constitution Weber can hardly be termed a consistent democrat. An unrepentant chauvinist and militarist, he declared in the November of 1918: ‘For the resurrection of Germany in its old splendour I would certainly ally myself with every power on earth and even with the very devil himself...’ And early in 1919, in frank discussion with General Ludendorff, he remarked in reply to the question ‘What do you understand by democracy?’, that ‘In a democracy the people elects the leader whom it trusts. Then the elected one says: “Now shut up and obey. People and parties must no longer butt in"’, to which Ludendorff, who lent his considerable military prestige and personal presence to Hitler’s ill-starred Munich putsch, responded: ‘Such “democracy” is alright with me.’ Weber’s notion of democracy differs but little from Hitler’s, whose definition we have already quoted. Hitler favoured a ‘truly Germanic democracy, characterised by the free election of a leader and his obligation to assume all responsibility for his actions and omissions: in it there is no majority vote, but only the decision of an individual who must answer with his fortune and his life for his choice’ (Hitler, Mein Kampf, p 91). Even on this last point there is similarity with Weber’s definition, for he told Ludendorff that ‘afterwards the people can judge – if the leader has made mistakes, to the gallows with him’. Only the leader was, in the case of Hitler at least, also chief hangman!

53. But around Weimar things were not quite normal. General Märcker, in charge of the Free Corps units detailed to protect the tender shoots of German parliamentarianism, later recalled that ‘Weimar was encircled at 10 kilometers distance; all roads situated in this circle were secured by groups of officers and non-commissioned officers with full equipment... Villages and industrial hamlets in Thuringia were unfriendly to our troops...’ (General Ludwig Märcker, Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichswehr Geschichte des frei willeigen Landesjagerkorps (Leipzig, 1927), p 91)