The Problem Of The Trade Unions
OWING TO THE RAPID GROWTH OF THE MOVEMENT, in 1922 WE FELT COMPELLED to take a definite stand on a question which has not been fully solved even yet.
In our efforts to discover the quickest and easiest way for the movement to reach the heart of the broad masses we were always confronted with the objection that the worker could never completely belong to us while his interests in the purely vocational and economic sphere were cared for by a political organization conducted by men whose principles were quite different from ours.
That was quite a serious objection. The general belief was that a workman engaged in some trade or other could not exist if he did not belong to a trade union. Not only were his professional interests thus protected but a guarantee of permanent employment was simply inconceivable without membership in a trade union. The majority of the workers were in the trades unions. Generally speaking, the unions had successfully conducted the battle for the establishment of a definite scale of wages and had concluded agreements which guaranteed the worker a steady income. Undoubtedly the workers in the various trades benefited by the results of that campaign and, for honest men especially, conflicts of conscience must have arisen if they took the wages which had been assured through the struggle fought by the trades unions and if at the same time the men themselves withdrew from the fight.
It was difficult to discuss this problem with the average bourgeois employer. He had no understanding (or did not wish to have any) for either the material or moral side of the question. Finally he declared that his own economic interests were in principle opposed to every kind of organization which joined together the workmen that were dependent on him. Hence it was for the most part impossible to bring these bourgeois employers to take an impartial view of the situation. Here, therefore, as in so many other cases, it was necessary to appeal to disinterested outsiders who would not be subject to the temptation of fixing their attention on the trees and failing to see the forest. With a little good will on their part, they could much more easily understand a state of affairs which is of the highest importance for our present and future existence.
In the first volume of this book I have already expressed my views on the nature and purpose and necessity of trade unions. There I took up the standpoint that unless measures are undertaken by the State (usually futile in such cases) or a new ideal is introduced in our education, which would change the attitude of the employer towards the worker, no other course would be open to the latter except to defend his own interests himself by appealing to his equal rights as a contracting party within the economic sphere of the nation's existence. I stated further that this would conform to the interests of the national community if thereby social injustices could be redressed which otherwise would cause serious damage to the whole social structure. I stated, moreover, that the worker would always find it necessary to undertake this protective action as long as there were men among the employers who had no sense of their social obligations nor even of the most elementary human rights. And I concluded by saying that if such self-defence be considered necessary its form ought to be that of an association made up of the workers themselves on the basis of trades unions.
This was my general idea and it remained the same in 1922. But a clear and precise formula was still to be discovered. We could not be satisfied with merely understanding the problem. It was necessary to come to some conclusions that could be put into practice. The following questions had to be answered:
(1) Are trade unions necessary?
(2) Should the German National Socialist Labour Party itself operate on a trade unionist basis or have its members take part in trade unionist activities in some form or other?
(3) What form should a National Socialist Trades Union take? What are the tasks confronting us and the ends we must try to attain?
(4) How can we establish trade unions for such tasks and aims?
I think that I have already answered the first question adequately. In the present state of affairs I am convinced that we cannot possibly dispense with the trades unions. On the contrary, they are among the most important institutions in the economic life of the nation. Not only are they important in the sphere of social policy but also, and even more so, in the national political sphere. For when the great masses of a nation see their vital needs satisfied through a just trade unionist movement the stamina of the whole nation in its struggle for existence will be enormously reinforced thereby.
Before everything else, the trades unions are necessary as building stones for the future economic parliament, which will be made up of chambers representing the various professions and occupations.
The second question is also easy to answer. If the trade unionist movement is important, then it is clear that National Socialism ought to take a definite stand on that question, not only theoretically but also in practice. But how? That is more difficult to see clearly.
The National Socialist Movement, which aims at establishing the National Socialist People's State, must always bear steadfastly in mind the principle that every future institution under that State must be rooted in the movement itself. It is a great mistake to believe that by acquiring possession of supreme political power we can bring about a definite reorganization, suddenly starting from nothing, without the help of a certain reserve stock of men who have been trained beforehand, especially in the spirit of the movement. Here also the principle holds good that the spirit is always more important than the external form which it animates; since this form can be created mechanically and quickly. For instance, the leadership principle may be imposed on an organized political community in a dictatorial way. But this principle can become a living reality only by passing through the stages that are necessary for its own evolution. These stages lead from the smallest cell of the State organism upwards. As its bearers and representatives, the leadership principle must have a body of men who have passed through a process of selection lasting over several years, who have been tempered by the hard realities of life and thus rendered capable of carrying the principle into practical effect.
It is out of the question to think that a scheme for the Constitution of a State can be pulled out of a portfolio at a moment's notice and 'introduced' by imperative orders from above. One may try that kind of thing but the result will always be something that has not sufficient vitality to endure. It will be like a stillborn infant. The idea of it calls to mind the origin of the Weimar Constitution and the attempt to impose on the German people a new Constitution and a new flag, neither of which had any inner relation to the vicissitudes of our people's history during the last half century.
The National Socialist State must guard against all such experiments. It must grow out of an organization which has already existed for a long time. This organization must possess National Socialist life in itself, so that finally it may be able to establish a National Socialist State that will be a living reality.
As I have already said, the germ cells of this State must lie in the administrative chambers which will represent the various occupations and professions, therefore first of all in the trades unions. If this subsequent vocational representation and the Central Economic Parliament are to be National Socialist institutions, these important germ cells must be vehicles of the National Socialist concept of life. The institutions of the movement are to be brought over into the State; for the State cannot call into existence all of a sudden and as if by magic those institutions which are necessary to its existence, unless it wishes to have institutions that are bound to remain completely lifeless.
Looking at the matter from the highest standpoint, the National Socialist Movement will have to recognize the necessity of adopting its own trade-unionist policy.
It must do this for a further reason, namely because a real National Socialist education for the employer as well as for the employee, in the spirit of a mutual co-operation within the common framework of the national community, cannot be secured by theoretical instruction, appeals and exhortations, but through the struggles of daily life. In this spirit and through this spirit the movement must educate the several large economic groups and bring them closer to one another under a wider outlook. Without this preparatory work it would be sheer illusion to hope that a real national community can be brought into existence. The great ideal represented by its philosophy of life and for which the movement fights can alone form a general style of thought steadily and slowly. And this style will show that the new state of things rests on foundations that are internally sound and not merely an external façade.
Hence the movement must adopt a positive attitude towards the trade-unionist idea. But it must go further than this. For the enormous number of members and followers of the trade-unionist movement it must provide a practical education which will meet the exigencies of the coming National Socialist State.
The answer to the third question follows from what has been already said.
The National Socialist Trades Union is not an instrument for class warfare, but a representative organ of the various occupations and callings. The National Socialist State recognizes no 'classes'. But, under the political aspect, it recognizes only citizens with absolutely equal rights and equal obligations corresponding thereto. And, side by side with these, it recognizes subjects of the State who have no political rights whatsoever.
According to the National Socialist concept, it is not the task of the trades union to band together certain men within the national community and thus gradually transform these men into a class, so as to use them in a conflict against other groups similarly organized within the national community. We certainly cannot assign this task to the trades union as such. This was the task assigned to it the moment it became a fighting weapon in the hands of the Marxists. The trades union is not naturally an instrument of class warfare; but the Marxists transformed it into an instrument for use in their own class struggle. They created the economic weapon which the international Jew uses for the purpose of destroying the economic foundations of free and independent national States, for ruining their national industry and trade and thereby enslaving free nations to serve Jewish world-finance, which transcends all State boundaries.
In contradistinction to this, the National Socialist Trades Union must organize definite groups and those who participate in the economic life of the nation and thus enhance the security of the national economic system itself, reinforcing it by the elimination of all those anomalies which ultimately exercise a destructive influence on the social body of the nation, damaging the vital forces of the national community, prejudicing the welfare of the State and, by no means as a last consequence, bringing evil and destruction on economic life itself.
Therefore in the hands of the National Socialist Trades Union the strike is not an instrument for disturbing and dislocating the national production, but for increasing it and making it run smoothly, by fighting against all those annoyances which by reason of their unsocial character hinder efficiency in business and thereby hamper the existence of the whole nation. For individual efficiency stands always in casual relation to the general social and juridical position of the individual in the economic process. Individual efficiency is also the sole root of the conviction that the economic prosperity of the nation must necessarily redound to the benefit of the individual citizen.
The National Socialist employee will have to recognize the fact that the economic prosperity of the nation brings with it his own material happiness.
The National Socialist employer must recognize that the happiness and contentment of his employees are necessary pre-requisites for the existence and development of his own economic prosperity.
National Socialist workers and employers are both together the delegates and mandatories of the whole national community. The large measure of personal freedom which is accorded to them for their activities must be explained by the fact that experience has shown that the productive powers of the individual are more enhanced by being accorded a generous measure of freedom than by coercion from above. Moreover, by according this freedom we give free play to the natural process of selection which brings forward the ablest and most capable and most industrious. For the National Socialist Trades Union, therefore, the strike is a means that may, and indeed must, be resorted to as long as there is not a National Socialist State yet. But when that State is established it will, as a matter of course, abolish the mass struggle between the two great groups made up of employers and employees respectively, a struggle which has always resulted in lessening the national production and injuring the national community. In place of this struggle, the National Socialist State will take over the task of caring for and defending the rights of all parties concerned. It will be the duty of the Economic Chamber itself to keep the national economic system in smooth working order and to remove whatever defects or errors it may suffer from. Questions that are now fought over through a quarrel that involves millions of people will then be settled in the Representative Chambers of Trades and Professions and in the Central Economic Parliament. Thus employers and employees will no longer find themselves drawn into a mutual conflict over wages and hours of work, always to the detriment of their mutual interests. But they will solve these problems together on a higher plane, where the welfare of the national community and of the State will be as a shining ideal to throw light on all their negotiations.
Here again, as everywhere else, the inflexible principle must be observed, that the interests of the country must come before party interests.
The task of the National Socialist Trades Union will be to educate and prepare its members to conform to these ideals. That task may be stated as follows: All must work together for the maintenance and security of our people and the People's State, each one according to the abilities and powers with which Nature has endowed him and which have been developed and trained by the national community.
Our fourth question was: How shall we establish trades unions for such tasks and aims? That is far more difficult to answer.
Generally speaking, it is easier to establish something in new territory than in old territory which already has its established institutions. In a district where there is no existing business of a special character one can easily establish a new business of this character. But it is more difficult if the same kind of enterprise already exists and it is most difficult of all when the conditions are such that only one enterprise of this kind can prosper. For here the promoters of the new enterprise find themselves confronted not only with the problem of introducing their own business but also that of how to bring about the destruction of the other business already existing in the district, so that the new enterprise may be able to exist.
It would be senseless to have a National Socialist Trades Union side by side with other trades unions. For this Trades Union must be thoroughly imbued with a feeling for the ideological nature of its task and of the resulting obligation not to tolerate other similar or hostile institutions. It must also insist that itself alone is necessary, to the exclusion of all the rest. It can come to no arrangement and no compromise with kindred tendencies but must assert its own absolute and exclusive right.
There were two ways which might lead to such a development:
(1) We could establish our Trades Union and then gradually take up the fight against the Marxist International Trades Union.
(2) Or we could enter the Marxist Trades Union and inculcate a new spirit in it, with the idea of transforming it into an instrument in the service of the new ideal.
The first way was not advisable, by reason of the fact that our financial situation was still the cause of much worry to us at that time and our resources were quite slender. The effects of the inflation were steadily spreading and made the particular situation still more difficult for us, because in those years one could scarcely speak of any material help which the trades unions could extend to their members. From this point of view, there was no reason why the individual worker should pay his dues to the union. Even the Marxist unions then existing were already on the point of collapse until, as the result of Herr Cuno's enlightened Ruhr policy, millions were suddenly poured into their coffers. This so-called 'national' Chancellor of the Reich should go down in history as the Redeemer of the Marxist trades unions.
We could not count on similar financial facilities. And nobody could be induced to enter a new Trades Union which, on account of its financial weakness, could not offer him the slightest material benefit. On the other hand, I felt bound absolutely to guard against the creation of such an organization which would only be a shelter for shirkers of the more or less intellectual type.
At that time the question of personnel played the most important role. I did not have a single man whom I might call upon to carry out this important task. Whoever could have succeeded at that time in overthrowing the Marxist unions to make way for the triumph of the National Socialist corporative idea, which would then take the place of the ruinous class warfare--such a person would be fit to rank with the very greatest men our nation has produced and his bust should be installed in the Valhalla at Regensburg for the admiration of posterity.
But I knew of no person who could qualify for such a pedestal.
In this connection we must not be led astray by the fact that the international trades unions are conducted by men of only mediocre significance, for when those unions were founded there was nothing else of a similar kind already in existence. To-day the National Socialist Movement must fight against a monster organization which has existed for a long time, rests on gigantic foundations and is carefully constructed even in the smallest details. An assailant must always exercise more intelligence than the defender, if he is to overthrow the latter. The Marxist trade-unionist citadel may be governed to-day by mediocre leaders, but it cannot be taken by assault except through the dauntless energy and genius of a superior leader on the other side. If such a leader cannot be found it is futile to struggle with Fate and even more foolish to try to overthrow the existing state of things without being able to construct a better in its place.
Here one must apply the maxim that in life it is often better to allow something to go by the board rather than try to half do it or do it badly, owing to a lack of suitable means.
To this we must add another consideration, which is not at all of a demagogic character. At that time I had, and I still have to-day, a firmly rooted conviction that when one is engaged in a great ideological struggle in the political field it would be a grave mistake to mix up economic questions with this struggle in its earlier stages. This applies particularly to our German people. For if such were to happen in their case the economic struggle would immediately distract the energy necessary for the political fight. Once the people are brought to believe that they can buy a little house with their savings they will devote themselves to the task of increasing their savings and no spare time will be left to them for the political struggle against those who, in one way or another, will one day secure possession of the pennies that have been saved. Instead of participating in the political conflict on behalf of the opinions and convictions which they have been brought to accept they will now go further with their 'settlement' idea and in the end they will find themselves for the most part sitting on the ground amidst all the stools.
To-day the National Socialist Movement is at the beginning of its struggle. In great part it must first of all shape and develop its ideals. It must employ every ounce of its energy in the struggle to have its great ideal accepted, and the success of this effort is not conceivable unless the combined energies of the movement be entirely at the service of this struggle.
To-day we have a classical example of how the active strength of a people becomes paralysed when that people is too much taken up with purely economic problems.
The Revolution which took place in November 1918 was not made by the trades unions, but it was carried out in spite of them. And the people of Germany did not wage any political fight for the future of their country because they thought that the future could be sufficiently secured by constructive work in the economic field.
We must learn a lesson from this experience, because in our case the same thing must happen under the same circumstances. The more the combined strength of our movement is concentrated in the political struggle, the more confidently may we count on being successful along our whole front. But if we busy ourselves prematurely with trade unionist problems, settlement problems, etc., it will be to the disadvantage of our own cause, taken as a whole. For, though these problems may be important, they cannot be solved in an adequate manner until we have political power in our hand and are able to use it in the service of this idea. Until that day comes these problems can have only a paralysing effect on the movement. And if it takes them up too soon they will only be a hindrance in the effort to attain its own ideological aims. It may then easily happen that trade unionist considerations will control the political direction of the movement, instead of the ideological aims of the movement directing the way that the trades unions are to take.
The movement and the nation can derive advantage from a National Socialist trade unionist organization only if the latter be so thoroughly inspired by National Socialist ideas that it runs no danger of falling into step behind the Marxist movement. For a National Socialist Trades Union which would consider itself only as a competitor against the Marxist unions would be worse than none. It must declare war against the Marxist Trades Union, not only as an organization but, above all, as an idea. It must declare itself hostile to the idea of class and class warfare and, in place of this, it must declare itself as the defender of the various occupational and professional interests of the German people.
Considered from all these points of view it was not then advisable, nor is it yet advisable, to think of founding our own Trades Union. That seemed clear to me, at least until somebody appeared who was obviously called by fate to solve this particular problem.
Therefore there remained only two possible ways. Either to recommend our own party members to leave the trades unions in which they were enrolled or to remain in them for the moment, with the idea of causing as much destruction in them as possible.
In general, I recommended the latter alternative.
Especially in the year 1922-23 we could easily do that. For, during the period of inflation, the financial advantages which might be reaped from a trades union organization would be negligible, because we could expect to enroll only a few members owing to the undeveloped condition of our movement. The damage which might result from such a policy was all the greater because its bitterest critics and opponents were to be found among the followers of the National Socialist Party.
I had already entirely discountenanced all experiments which were destined from the very beginning to be unsuccessful. I would have considered it criminal to run the risk of depriving a worker of his scant earnings in order to help an organization which, according to my inner conviction, could not promise real advantages to its members.
Should a new political party fade out of existence one day nobody would be injured thereby and some would have profited, but none would have a right to complain. For what each individual contributes to a political movement is given with the idea that it may ultimately come to nothing. But the man who pays his dues to a trade union has the right to expect some guarantee in return. If this is not done, then the directors of such a trade union are swindlers or at least careless people who ought to be brought to a sense of their responsibilities.
We took all these viewpoints into consideration before making our decision in 1922. Others thought otherwise and founded trades unions. They upbraided us for being short-sighted and failing to see into the future. But it did not take long for these organizations to disappear and the result was what would have happened in our own case. But the difference was that we should have deceived neither ourselves nor those who believed in us.