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New International, Spring 1955


Abe Stein

Rearmament and German Social-Democracy

Protests Offer New Prospects for Social Democracy


From New International, Vol. XXI No. 1, Spring 1955, pp. 41–54.
Marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In its short span of life, the German Federal Republic has seen nothing comparable to the kind of mass opposition led in recent months by the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) against ratification of the Paris Treaty. Meetings, demonstrations and strikes, embracing thousands and tens of thousands of workers, young people and middle-class supporters took place throughout West Germany. With the working class as the core and center, a truly popular movement has taken shape under the leadership of the SPD.

What will the SPD do now that the West German Bundestag has approved the law tying the Federal Republic to the American military bloc and permitting rearmament? The leadership of the SPD and its trade union allies have declared they will continue their opposition. The possibility exists of carrying out a delaying tactic on the parliamentary plane over a considerable period of time. Every one of the thirty to forty supplementary bills that must be enacted before an army can be set on foot can be contested.

While such a tactic would hamper and delay rearmament, what the Adenauer regime fears is that the SPD will not confine its opposition to the parliamentary arena. Should the SPD continue to encourage and call for mass protest against the policies of the regime, the Chancellor would face his greatest challenge. The regime would be compelled to enter into direct conflict with the organized working class to break its resistance to conscription.

On what grounds will the SPD justify its continued opposition? It can only defend itself by asserting, and correctly, that the formal parliamentary process does not accurately reflect the wishes of the majority of the West German people; that the protest meetings, demonstrations and strikes have a greater significance than any show of hands in the Bundestag.

It can call for a general plebiscite or for a dissolution of the Bundestag, and new elections, but the SPD leadership knows that Adenauer will not grant the first, and the Basic Law makes the second impossible. It can only ground its action on what is happening in the factories, in the meeting-halls and in the streets outside parliament. But this approach would repudiate its long-proclaimed devotion to the idea of “fair play” and the “rules of parliamentary democracy.” How far the SPD leadership will go along this road is another question.

By its display of militancy, by its turn to the left, the Ollenhauer party leadership has surprised not only the outside world and the Adenauer regime, but itself as well. It has also provoked dismay among certain sections of the party leadership on the federal and local level who are threatening to rebel against the line the SPD is following. So far their defiance has been limited to words, but their temper is indicated by a lack of elementary loyalty in the midst of the struggle. In the heat of the political battle, when the party was calling upon workers to demonstrate by the tens of thousands, these leaders chose to vent their ill-concealed displeasure to the first available newspaperman.

On January 13, the New York Times correspondent reported that Wilhelm Kaisen, President of the Bremen Senate, had said the Social-Democratic Party’s placards against the Paris Agreements “should not be taken too seriously.”

The same dispatch reported that Dr. Hermann Knorr, a Social-Democratic deputy in the Baden-Wuerttemberg state legislature, had declared, “We here in Southern Germany will not go along with the stubborn Ollenhauer course.”

The course the Right-Wing seeks was best expressed by its outstanding theoretician and spokesman, Dr. Carlo Schmidt, member of the SPD Executive Committee and vice-president of the West German parliament. Schmidt simply said that “the SPD would recognize the Paris agreements once they had been ratified.”

The Right Wing is disturbed by the present course of the Ollenhauer leadership because it regards any further struggle for national reunification as utopian, and the neutralist cry for “more negotiations” as worse than useless. It believes the German question is only one part of the great issues which divide the two world blocs, and that these issues can only be resolved in favor of the “West” by a policy of “negotiating through strength.”

But important though the question of foreign policy is, it remains but one point in the over all program of the Right Wing in the SPD leadership, of the Carlo Schmidt’s, the Kaisen’s, the Suhr’s. This program, which we shall examine in some detail further on, can be summed up in one phrase: the liquidation of the SPD as a working-class party.

THE ELECTIONS OF SEPTEMBER 1953 marked a turning point in the postwar history of the German Social-Democratic Party. The SPD leadership entered the contest confident the party would improve its position and bargaining power. While they did not expect the party to win a large enough majority to permit it to rule alone, they did anticipate it would increase its parliamentary strength to the point where Adenauer could no longer ignore it, and would be forced to draw the SPD into the government as a coalition partner. The era of true parliamentary democracy would then begin, resting on the cooperation of the two major parties in the Federal Republic.

Instead of a moderate victory proportionate to their moderate hopes, the SPD suffered a radical and crushing defeat. The percentage of votes cast for the SPD remained practically the same as in the election of 1949, dropping from 29.2 percent to 28.8. In absolute figures, the SPD had increased its support by roughly one million. But about six million more people voted in 1953 than in 1949, and Adenauer’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had increased its vote by five million. The disastrous fact was that the SPD had been unable to attract the majority of new voters or to split away any of Adenauer’s followers. Again it had failed to overcome the limit of the 30 per cent of votes traditionally cast for the Left. So it had been in the Kaiser’s time and under the Weimar Republic as well.

From a parliamentary point of view, the SPD position was now hopeless. The CDU had gained an absolute majority in its own name and together with its coalition partners wielded the two-thirds necessary to bring about any vital changes in the Basic Law it desired without any hindrance from the SPD. And this meant, first of all, linking the Federal Republic to the American military alliance and rearmament. The SPD no longer disposed of the one-third of the seats in the Bundestag that were necessary to block Adenauer on critical issues.

The ranks of the leadership and the party were shaken by this unforeseen rout. The crisis had arrived and the soul-searching began. Articles, manifestos and speeches dedicated to criticism of the party’s course began to appear in modest number; and their character indicated that the defeat had crystallized a new tendency in the SPD; a Right-Wing emerged with a coherent and aggressive program of its own.

The Right-Wing threw a merciless light on the condition of the party. From a brilliant beginning in the chaos that marked the end of hostilities in 1945 to the peak of 1948, the party had grown by leaps and bounds reaching a total membership of more than 800,000. From 1948 on, the party had entered a state of decline. By 1952, the membership had fallen to 650,000; and in 1953 it had sunk to 610,000.

The fatal inability of the party to attract the younger generation was mirrored in the predominance of the older age groups. In 1952, the percentage of members under 35 came to 13 per cent, those under 45 to one- third. The number of party members over 55 accounted for 42 per cent of the total membership. The SPD was a party of old people.

The party, said the Right-Wing critics, was manifestly unable, with its traditional program directed to the workers, to win the electoral support it needed if it wanted to leave the sterile benches of the opposition and take part in the government. It was time to have done with an over-aged program that satisfied an over-aged membership, and condemned the party to live forever in the spirit world of the future.

THE PARTY WAS IN TROUBLE, said the Right-Wing critics further, because the program was completely outdated and therefore wrong. Marxism had been ersatz religion for a terribly exploited proletariat in the 19th century and had given it both self-respect and hope in an indefinite future. But a political party nowadays had no business promoting a “Weltanschauung” and competing with philosophy and religion. Besides it was silly to talk about a “proletariat” when everyone could see the modern working class no longer conformed to Marx’s description and that there also existed totally new classes that had to be taken into account – the modern white collar and professional groups who bulked larger and larger in the economic and political life of modern society.

It was silly to talk about the class struggle when the main danger came not from the dispossessed capitalists, but from a new elite of managers and the state. And to condemn capitalism out of hand, to renounce all the benefits of the competitive workings of the market and free enterprise was as unrealistic as it was wrong. The Russian example had shown that to call for total socialization and planning was dangerous. The complete statification of property could only lead to a totalitarian dictatorship. In fact, it was necessary to see to it that every citizen owned a piece of property so that he could safeguard his “independence” and say “no” when necessary to the ruthless power of the modem state and big business.

The conclusions of the Right-Wing were consistent, if not surprising: cleanse the program of the Marxist remnants, cast off the old banners and old loyalties; turn the SPD from a workers party into a “people’s party.”

The response of the Ollenhauer party leadership to the attack from the right was firm indeed. Ollenhauer, Mellies, Erler, Eichler, and the rest of the top leadership declared the Social Democratic Party would neither renounce its Marxist heritage, repudiate its Socialist future nor cut itself off from its working-class base. The Social Democratic Party had been, was and would remain the party of the German working class. And as the Party Expert on Philosophy, Culture, and the Pure Ethics of the Spirit, Willy Eichler, said at the Berlin Party Congress:

“But it is true and remains true that not only at the very beginning of the struggle for emancipation but today as well, the workers constitute the core of the Social Democratic voters and fighters.”

The party leadership, however, found itself in a somewhat embarrassing position. What it defended so vigorously in the abstract, it had already half-surrendered in the concrete. The Right-Wing for example, wanted as little socialization as possible. But the party program had already made a significant retreat in this respect and only called for the nationalization of the coal and steel industries.

The Right-Wing opposed total planning, but the party leadership had invented a brilliant slogan: “Competition to the degree possible, as much planning as necessary.” The implication being plain that competition was a positive good and planning a necessary evil. What a far cry from Kautsky’s forthright posing of the question in 1920. Kautsky wrote, “Our real aim is to abolish exploitation. If socialization of the means of production cannot accomplish this, then we must throw socialism overboard in order not to endanger our goal.” While the bourgeoisie proclaims the German economy to be a “social market economy” the SPD leadership calls for a market economy somewhat socialized and offers an economic program that comprises a generous mixture of Keynesian measures of money and credit control. Not Socialism, but an American New Deal model economy is proposed, geared to full-employment with constantly rising productivity.

The theoreticians of the Right have sharply criticized the sterile “nationalism” of the party program and called for a return to the party’s tradition of internationalism. By this they mean SPD support for German participation in the various European economic and political groups which came into being after the war.

One of Kurt Schumacher’s real contributions to both German Socialism and international Socialism was to expose the Schuman plan for the Coal and Steel Community as a super-cartel. Every criticism he launched before its inception has been proven correct since it came into existence. However, so eager was the group that inherited leadership of the SPD from him to prove their constructive approach on all questions, that they brought the SPD into the pseudo-parliamentary institution of the Coal and Steel Pool.

The Two Groups Measure Strength

IN THE CAREFULLY RESTRAINED discussion that began after September 1953 and is still going on between the SPD leadership and its Right-Wing critics, each group had its own particular polemical advantages. The “liquidationist” theoreticians could rest their case in the immediate post-election period on the demoralization of the party and the socialist-dominated trade union ranks. Their arguments were consistent and thought out, and they seemed to promise a way out of the blind alley in which German Social Democracy had landed.

The superiority of the leadership lay, first of all, in its control of the party apparatus and the absolute authority it wielded. In the entire period that followed the reconstruction of the party in 1945, no opposition group either of the right or the left had been able to put in an appearance.

The second advantage of the Ollenhauer group lay in the loyalty of the membership to the tradition of the party. But this was not an altogether blind, conservative loyalty. Whoever reads carefully the minutes of the Berlin Party Congress held in July 1954 will find amid the strong half-neutralist, half-pacifist sentiments, a considerable sprinkling of democratic, socialist, third-camp opinions. What binds all of these individuals and loose tendencies together is a conviction that the link between the party and the working class cannot and should not be broken.

The third advantage of the leadership lay in its ability to defend its position or lack of position with words while it makes a tactical retreat before the onslaught of the opposition. The reformulation of the party’s position on rearmament at the Berlin Congress is the best example.

There is not much that divides the leadership, as we have just seen, from its critics in terms of immediate perspective and day-to-day activity. Both are united, too, by their unconditional devotion to the processes of parliamentary democracy as the only instrument of social and economic reforms. But while the Ollenhauer group presents its program of piece-meal reform in the party’s tradition, the Right-Wing prefers the more fashionable language borrowed from Keynesian economics, modern sociology and the American New Deal.

WHAT DOES DIVIDE THE PARTY leadership from its critics is the question of the character and role of the party. The opposition does not believe the SPD will ever be more than a minority party, supported by the traditional “30 per cent” of the votes so long as it appeals primarily to the workers. To break through this barrier, to win an electoral majority, the Right- Wing seeks a broad coalition with the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie, the left wing of the religious bloc, and the new white collar classes. In brief, it wants to create a loose, vote-gathering machine along the lines of that well- known “people’s party,” the American Democratic Party.

But to attract these groups, it believes the party must first eliminate from its program anything that offends the prejudices of its prospective allies, speaks of conflict between the classes or assigns to the working class a leading role in an inevitable struggle to reconstitute society. And even in the slow crawl toward some vague form of the welfare state, the working class can claim no superior status.

“Being,” said Marx, “determines consciousness.” And in this instance what the Ollenhauer group is primarily defending from the vigorous onslaughts of its critics is not so much a program as the material source of its power and prestige – the party. It resists and will continue to resist any and all efforts to liquidate the SPD as it is now constituted. To be sure, the defense is carried on instinctively, blindly and without an awareness of where the struggle may lead. And for the time being, its very narrowness of vision, so bitterly (and correctly) criticised by the opposition, is a source of strength.

What will be the outcome of the struggle that has just begun inside the SPD? Part of the answer lies in the fortunate fact that not everything depends on the bureaucratic, routine- minded party leadership. It is more object than subject of the situation with which it is confronted. The sudden shifts and turns in world politics, the increasing aggressiveness of its own bourgeoisie, and the mood and temper of the organized West German working class outside the party, that is, in the trade unions, will play an important part in shaping the direction the SPD takes.

The role of the trade unions is exceptionally crucial to the party’s future, for in a sense, they are playing the part of the left-wing that is absent from the debate inside the party. The revival of the German working class which began in the summer of 1954 was in its entirety the handiwork of the trade union leadership, not of the SPD. And the developments since then, political as well as economic, are only in large part due to the drive, militancy, and boldness of the younger trade union leaders.

The SPD defeat in the elections of September 1953 was a crushing blow not only to the party but to the trade union movement as well. The first consequence of the Adenauer victory was the attempt by some Catholic and Protestant trade union leaders, loyal agents of the regime, to wrest control of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) from the Socialists. This sudden assault was accompanied by threats of a split if the demands of the religious faction were not met.

Thanks to honest and loyal left-wing elements among the religious trade unionists who refused to support this attempted coup, the DGB was able to repel the attack. But there were other serious consequences of the bourgeois victory at the polls.

In the last half of 1953, the membership of the DGB began to decline rapidly even though the labor force was expanding. The response of the central trade union leadership was to persevere in its policy of class collaboration as if nothing were wrong. At the beginning of 1954, the DGB Executive Board announced that it would not seek wage raises for the workers in order to safeguard Germany’s competitive position in the world market!

At the beginning of August, however, the action of the Bavarian Metal Workers Union set off a tremendous strike movement that was ultimately to embrace more than four million of West Germany’s six million organized workers and employees by the middle of September. The aim of the strikes were strictly limited to the economic sphere, to modest wage raises. Nevertheless, they announced a silent revolution; an important overturn had taken place inside the leadership of the DGB.

The Executive Board of the DGB is composed of the officials who run the Federation and the heads of the 16 individual unions that make it up. Whereas the apparatus of the Federation was firmly in the hands of the conservative older generation exemplified by such men as the late Hans Böckler, its first chairman, Christian Fette, his successor and Walter Freilog, its present chief, the heads of the separate trade unions are younger and more militant.

It was a bloc of these younger leaders, headed by Brenner, a co-chairman of the metal workers union, the largest and most powerful group in the Federation, who forced their program on the leadership of the Federation.

The overturn was formalized at the DGB Congress in October when the Federation passed from purely economic questions to political issues. Whereas the DGB had previously abstained from taking a position on German rearmament and EDC, the now dominant younger militants proposed that the Federation come out against rearmament, against EDC, enter the political arena and join the SPD in an earnest fight for reunification of the country. The program of the younger leadership won enthusiastic support from the congress delegates, not only socialists but left-wing Catholics as well.

A well-informed and brilliant German writer, Richard Petry, author of the best study of the SPD from 1945 to the present yet to appear [1] has given us some indication what these young trade union radicals are like. He writes:

Out of the spontaneous protests of the workers against the declarations made by Fette and Hoff favorable to remilitarization, a small group of radical socialists in the Bavarian trade unions developed in January, 1952, a real program of decisive socialist neutralism. At the last moment the initiators – confronted by the incapacity of the SPD and the immobility of the DGB bureaucracies – retreated before defeat. Only a few know, how close the Federal republic was then to a revolutionary strike movement. It was the only attempt of its kind, made during the period of Adenauer’s first time as Chancellor, that was based on socialist means and had socialist aims. The SPD had not the slightest part in it.

Petry’s description of the young trade union leadership has been confirmed by subsequent events. The alliance between the trade unions and the SPD, with the trade unions taking the lead, was effected after the DGB Congress in October, 1954. From that time date the great mass demonstrations against remilitarization.

Petry explains that the more radical socialists abandoned the party as a field of work because of the unendurable oppression of the bureaucratic leadership. It was impossible to organize any groups around a program, and just as impossible to present any program to the membership for discussion. The left wing which does not exist inside the party has found its place inside the trade union leadership, and has been exerting its influence on the party from the outside.

As far as it goes, this interpretation is certainly a correct one and this is not the first time that the trade unions have stood to the left of the party at critical junctures in history. We have an illuminating precedent from the early years of the Weimar Republic.

In the Spring of 1920, the army officer caste broke its alliance with the Social Democratic government of Ebert-Noske and attempted a rebellion. Having crushed the Spartacists and the Bavarian Workers Republic with its Social Democratic partners, it decided it could now dispense with the latter’s services. When Ebert-Noske appealed to one section of the officer caste to defend the Weimar Republic against another section, their plea was rejected. While the Social Democratic government fled from Berlin to Dresden, the German Trade Union Federation prepared to defend the democratic republic. Under the leadership of old Carl Legien, a true, conservative trade unionist, the Federation prepared for a nationwide general strike. (It was this same Legien who had once said “a general strike is general nonsense.”) The general strike succeeded in smashing the officer’s conspiracy, which has entered history as the “Kapp Putsch.” Having saved the Weimar Republic, Legien turned on the Ebert-Noske government with a set of radical demands which he backed with the threat to continue the general strike. He wanted the semi-military police troops and the government cleansed of all anti-democratic elements and insisted that the workers be given a larger share in the economic and political life of the country. At the same time he attempted to build a left wing political coalition that would oust the Ebert-Noske clique which he now held in contempt.

What is relevant in this historical parallel is not why Legien failed, but the nature of his response to the threat from the German officers caste. To defend bourgeois parliamentary democracy he was compelled to resort to the revolutionary method of a general strike. And the conclusions he drew were equally relevant. Democracy as a form of government could only be guaranteed if the workers played a decisive role in every sphere of industry and government.

WITH THE HISTORY OF WEIMAR behind them, is it any wonder that the trade unions have been galvanized into action by the imminence of remilitarization under the reactionary Adenauer regime? The closer the day approaches when an army is set on foot the more aggressive the bourgeoisie becomes. The bourgeois “restoration” is entering a new and dangerous stage. The statement made by the managing director of one of the big steel firms toward the end of January is a sign of things to come. According to this typical, unrepentant representative of the German bourgeoisie, co-determination in the steel and coal industries had been forced from the Bonn government by the “brutal threats” of the trade unions.

Behind this statement was a calculated preparation for a future struggle. The German bourgeoisie is seeking to escape the annoyances of co-determination in coal and steel by turning over essential managerial functions to holding companies. The trade unions have been pressing for an extension of the co-determination law to these companies. If they fail to see that an effective law is passed, the bourgeoisie will succeed in restoring its power, unrestricted and undivided, over the coal and steel industries. The one great advance made by the working class in the post-war period, a necessary if not sufficient condition for a transformation of German society in a socialist direction, will have turned out to have been a mirage. And if the bourgeoisie can take back one concession, what is to prevent them from taking back others? The only guarantee the workers have against this danger is to bring the power of their class to bear in a massive struggle that cannot remain defensive in character nor be limited to the economic sphere.

IN THE 1953 ELECTIONS THE SPD lost the power to check the Adenauer regime by purely parliamentary means. The regime now had the two-thirds majority in the Bundestag necessary to revise the constitution of the Federal Republic and bring about remilitarization once the stage was set by French approval. Little did it matter that such a move violated the national interest and the desires of the German people.

The 1953 defeat and its consequences were the price the present party leadership paid for all the ambiguities implicit in the organization and outlook it inherited from the late Kurt Schumacher. Schumacher’s reconstruction of the SPD deserves recognition as a tremendous achievement, but the blessings that resulted from his leadership were somewhat mixed.

He saved the SPD from being swallowed up by the Stalinists in the immediate post-war period. But the same anti-Stalinism came to serve the party leadership as a blunt instrument with which to hammer down any incipient opposition. Even worse, it degenerated into a vulgar rationale for class collaboration and support of American imperialism. The Berlin right-wing group has elaborated its crude anti-Stalinism into a theory that sees a common bond between capitalists and workers because the interests of both are threatened by Stalinism. In the face of totalitarianism, the class struggle ceases to exist!

Having meditated in his bitter years of imprisonment in Hitler’s jails and concentration camps the reasons for the Weimar debacle, Schumacher came to the conclusion that never again would the working class movement permit the reactionary bourgeoisie and its fascist hirelings to champion the national cause. But correct though this identification of class and national interests in the period of occupation was and remains, it was never supplemented by any positive program of internationalism. And the charge of the right-wing critics was correct, it remained negative in character because Schumacher never linked the fate of Germany with the creation of a democratic and united Europe. Although he paid lip service to the idea, it was never an essential ingredient of his practical politics. The idea of a union of West Europe, independent of both blocs and strong enough to withstand their encroachments, remained an abstraction. [2]

Schumacher wavered between two irreconcilable policies, both fatal to the realization of an independent West European federation, and equally a denial that the German working-class could pursue an independent socialist policy supported by, as well as supporting, the strivings of other West European socialist and working-class parties. At one time Schumacher would appeal for the impossible: to have the irreconcilable powers agree to negotiations and mutually underwrite the security of a neutral and unarmed Germany. On alternate occasions, Schumacher would speak of the ties that bound Germany and the SPD to the “free West,” implying that a united Germany would find its natural military and political allies in the American-led bloc.

Because Schumacher was a superb tactician, he could shift from one position to the other without drawing attention to the contradictions between them. But the less gifted Ollenhauer and his colleagues have moved from one policy to the other clumsily. Earlier, we cited the resolution adopted at the Berlin Party Congress. This vague, shapeless formulation is a confirmation of the stylistic law that content determines form. To be simultaneously for a “neutralized” Germany, detached from both camps and for an alliance with the West is not serious politics. But to do justice to Ollenhauer, it was not he who originated this Janus-faced outlook, but Kurt Schumacher.

Schumacher restored the party, but he saddled it with a narrow-minded and rudderless leadership. The SPD, says Petry, was “stamped out of the ground” by Schumacher. In the chaos that followed the cessation of hostilities, there was no time to wait for the masses to revive, to shake off their apathy and build the party from the bottom up.

The positive side of Schumacher’s work was that he repelled all attempts by right-wing elements to create a “people’s party” and built the SPD on a sound working-class foundation. The negative side was that Schumacher built the party from the top down, creating a highly centralized apparatus. But neither Schumacher nor the pre-war bureaucracy he had restored showed the slightest desire to relax their hold on the party once the period of chaos and primitive struggle for sheer survival had receded into the past. On the contrary, the process of centralization was carried still further, and in 1949, the number of party posts and units intermediary between the center and local units was reduced. More and not less authority was concentrated in the hands of the central apparatus, and the ability of the lowest units to influence the top through their pressure on the intermediary and local leaders was further diminished.

So conspicuous is the heavy hand of the party bureaucracy that in the two most important studies of the SPD, one by Klaus-Peter Schulz, a well-known right-wing Social-Democratic journalist who participated in the underground movement against Hitler, and the left-wing criticism we have referred to by Richard Petry, agree on this one point: the ruling party leaderhip has discouraged rank and file independence and initiative, frowned on any attempt at a free discussion and acted roughly at the first sign of formal opposition, above all from the left.

Both writers point to the fact that no serious discussion of party program, or the absence of one, was ever initiated, and that the German Socialist Party with its proud tradition of theoretical publications of the highest order did not even have a theoretical magazine until August, 1954, when the first issue of Die Neue Gesellschaft put in its appearance.

TO EXPLAIN THE AMBIGUITIES AND contradictions in Schumacher’s political ideas and his attitude toward the role and nature of the party it is necessary to present a brief historical review. Here Richard Petry can serve as our guide in explaining the riddle of Kurt Schumacher.

Petry explains that Schumacher was a socialist in the Lassallean tradition, and in line with his bourgeois, Prussian background had an exalted notion of the state. As a young man writing his doctoral thesis in the immediate aftermath of World War I Schumacher had taken as his subject, The Struggle in German Social-Democracy over Concepts of the State. In it the young intellectual had written, that Marx’s notion of the state was in contradiction to that of Lassalle’s, which derived from Hegel and Fichte. “Lassalle,” he wrote, “saw in the denial of the state a liberal, bourgeois element. The political development in Germany contributed to the retreat of the Lassallean notion of the ethical and political necessity of the state in favor of the colder and more negative attitude of Marx.” What is of interest to us here are the practical reasons which separated Marx and Lassalle and not the high-flown abstractions with which the young Prussian intellectual operated. Marx advocated a revolutionary alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie to bring about a national state. Lassalle, who had nothing but contempt for the craven German bourgeoisie, sought an alliance with the Prussian state against the bourgeoisie in order to bring about the same result. This same Prussian state, in the course of its struggle to unify Germany would be forced to make great concessions to the working class. For Marx, reforms and social change would be won from below; for Lassalle, given from above.

The synthesis of working class and state could only be achieved if the socialist movement adopted a “positive” attitude toward the state. The historic example Schumacher gives of what he considers a “positive” attitude toward the nation and its state is of the highest interest. He wrote:

August 4, 1914 revealed the tendencies and currents inside the party, in which that of a positive attitude toward the state showed a tactical and responsive dominance. However, it could not be developed because of the practical policies of the existing state ... the specific circumstances of the collapse strengthened pure class feeling at the expense of the interests of the state.

The consequence was, wrote the young Schumacher, that the synthesis between state and class was not achieved. And without the identification of class and state, of class interest and national interest, the premise for a successful struggle to achieve socialism did not exist. The pre-World War I program of Social-Democracy, with its abstentionism from practical politics and its vague internationalism, which alienated the middle-classes, ended in failure.

To this first ingredient of Schumacher’s early outlook must be added a second, his absolute devotion to democracy as an instrument of social change. Just as he preferred Lassalle to Marx, so he accepted the French and rejected the Russian Revolution. The democratic and national ideals of the first were universal and timeless in their application; those of the latter, local and limited to a specific time and place. There was no such thing said Schumacher, as either bourgeois or proletarian democracy. There was just democracy, and what it became depended on the insight and power of the workers.

On the basis of Schumacher’s early ideas, Petry has described him as a 19th century revolutionary national democrat misplaced in the next century. However, one must not take the ideas of the young Schumacher too literally in explaining the keen practical older politician. Petry comes closer to the truth when he also describes Schumacher as a “revolutionary reformist.”

STRIPPED OF THEIR LASSALLEAN DRESS, Schumacher’s ideas could be reduced to three points: the belief that the workers could and should try to win power and introduce socialism through parliamentary means; a program based on this perspective that committed the SPD to actual participation in the political life of the country; the identification of class and national interests.

What he criticized in pre-World War I Social-Democracy was first of all its lip service to revolution while it practiced political abstentionism; and secondly, its vague internationalism which alienated the middle-classes. To win power along the parliamentary road, Social-Democracy had to take a positive attitude toward the state and win the middle-classes to its support by espousing legitimate national interests.

Schumacher was a reformist, not because he believed in the peaceful and democratic transformation of society, but because he renounced beforehand the idea that a revolutionary struggle to win state power might be necessary. And this political perspective determined the bureaucratic nature of the party he built, not merely his Prussian origins and his harsh temperament. A party that sets out to conquer the state along the parliamentary road does not lead, but represents the masses. And such a party, intent on parliamentary routinism, has no need to prepare the masses for a long and protracted struggle. The party and its officialdom acts for and not with the workers.

However, Schumacher was not just an exceedingly gifted tactician and leader on the pure reformist model. He had not lived through the tumultuous early days of the Weimar Republic and its final hours of shipwreck for nothing. The willing surrender of the bourgeoisie to Hitler confirmed his Lassallean contempt of the class, and the cowardice of the Social-Democratic leadership was something he might never openly criticise but was to remember. It taught him to be wary of political alliances which would reduce the working-class to impotence.

Like Carl Legien, the conservative trade union leader, he learned that revolutionary action might be necessary to defend the democratic republic. And only the workers could and would defend it from its enemies. To forestall such attacks, it was necessary to do more than merely adapt to the existing forms of economic and social power. In the hands of the bourgeoisie they could be turned against the democratic state. The working class had to strive not only for political power but from the very beginning deprive the reactionary bourgeoisie access to the levers of economic and social power. The premise for this program was the reconstruction of the workers party. Co-determination in coal and steel was not to be an empty slogan. With these ideas began his post-World War II political activity. If the SPD was built from the top down, nevertheless it was built solidly on working-class foundations. The faint-hearted, those who had lost hope, the liquidationists, who wanted to build a diffuse “people’s party” from the very first hours found no sympathetic hearing from Kurt Schumacher.

Schumacher’s Right-Wing critics were to attack his negativism. And this is perhaps the chief complaint in the polemical and well-thought out pamphlet written by Klaus-Peter Schulz. [3] Surely, this is the most ironical of charges that could be made against Schumacher, the Lassallean, with his “veneration of the state,” who found in it, like Fichte and Hegel, an independent value and worth.

In his relations to the allied occupation powers and the Adenauer- ruled CDU, Schumacher was guided by an infallible political instinct. As he explained on more than one occasion in the early post-war days to party conferences, he was perfectly ready to enter a coalition with the “Center” as he called the Catholic CDU, in order to collaborate and win the left-minded segments of the middle-class. But he also explained that it would be folly to enter a coalition with elements who were separatist-minded (a reminder of Adenauer’s post-World War I activities) and to enter a government that had no power and was at the mercy of the whims of the occupation authorities.

It is not true that Schumacher refused to enter into coalition with the victorious Adenauer after the elections in 1949. What decision he would have made will never be known since Adenauer settled the matter once and for all by stating flatly that a coalition between the CDU and the SPD was impossible. The young Schumacher had rejected Marx’s notion that the state was the instrument of the ruling class. Adenauer acted as if he had learned this Marxian wisdom in his infancy.

What was negative in Schumacher’s politics was the kind of opposition in which he engaged. The struggle of workers for national reunification, for genuine democracy, for economic advances, all of this was transformed, with rare exceptions into a parliamentary duel between the ironic magnificence of Schumacher and the wily maneuvering of the Chancellor. What Schumacher set in motion was his own rhetoric, not the masses. He could pin the Chancellor down neatly and cause a parliamentary scandal by describing him as the “Chancellor of the Allies,” but his personal eloquence was not enough to dislodge the wily bourgeois politician or swerve him from his domestic course of restoration and his foreign policy of attaching the Federal Republic to the American bloc.

What was a political weapon in Schumacher’s gifted hands became a source of complaint for his mediocre heirs. Schumacher never deplored the fact that Adenauer had excluded the SPD from access to the levers of political power on the Federal level. He simply referred to this refusal to collaborate as one more proof of the regime”s undemocratic nature. And besides, how could one accept Adenauer’s foreign policy?

With Ollenhauer, the SPD entered the era of undignified lamentation. Not irony, but pathos; not even a parliamentary attack, but righteous sorrow. In his report at the Berlin Party Congress, Ollenhauer cited the Chancellor’s undemocratic behavior in ignoring the election results in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. On grounds of foreign policy, Adenauer had forbidden the local CDU to grant the SPD a share in the state government. We are not disappointed, continued Ollenhauer, we Social-Democrats of Nordrhein-Westfalen, because we have been denied some ministries. “I refer to it because it is our conviction that it would have been infinitely better for the cause of a stable democracy if the Social-Democrats and the CDU had formed a coalition regime, pursuing socially progressive policies.”

Still, Ollenhauer was Schumacher’s pupil and had learned from him that the SPD must and should participate in the work of the state. And if collaboration could not take place on the Federal level, it could be pursued on the local. The pupil was crude, but at least he was consistent with the teachings of his mentor. It was during Schumacher’s leadership that this form of political schizophrenia began: consistent opposition on the federal level, class collaboration on the local.

With Adenauer’s victory in 1953, the position of the SPD was clarified. It was not only powerless in the Bundestag, but wherever possible Adenauer was pushing it out of the state and local coalition regimes. The choice before the Ollenhauer leadership was plain: either capitulate completely or turn to the extra-parliamentary arena to continue the struggle. And unless it continued the struggle the prestige and authority of the party leadership was not only threatened from without, but from within.

IN HIS ARTICLE ON THE SPD, Richard Petry remarks that the failure of the party to win a majority of the voters was not inevitable. Between the alternatives of parliamentary debate and civil war, says Petry, there is another possibility: a real popular movement against rearmament that would have had at its disposal a variety of means: from mass meetings, through strike demonstrations to a peaceful, if illegal poll of the population in the states and localities under social-democratic administration.

But this is just the direction the SPD, pushed by the trade unions, has taken in the past six months; and because of it, has begun to win the ardent support of the youth and ever-larger sections of the middle-class. Under such conditions of mass struggle, it is impossible for a bureaucratic party leadership to outlaw rank and file initiative, discussion, and participation in formulating program. The possibility that a revolutionary left-wing can take shape in the party becomes a real possibility, and with it the possibility of a parallel transformation in German social-democracy.

* * *


1. In the September, 1954, issue of Frankfurter Hefte, Left-Catholic monthly, edited by Eugen Kogon and Walter Dirks.

2. Not all the blame rests with Schumacher. The failure of the British Labor Party to take the initiative, while it was in power, to create an independent Western Union was a serious set-back to the realization of this idea in the realm of practical politics. Raymond Aron, the conservative French writer, has commented bitingly on the provincial outlook of the British Labor Party and dubbed it true “national socialism.”

3. Sorge um die Deutsche Linke.

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