maandag 10 december 2012

The BVG Strike: A co-operation between National-Socialists and Communists

"It doesn't matter if we are communists or national-socialists, because our stomachs have the same hunger, we must unite to steer the SPD bosses and to accomplish our goal." 

This statement is from a NSBO-assembly during the '30's. This assembly was attended by 350 people, communists as well as national-socialists. The day before, several national-socialists joined a KPD congress and two years later in November 1932 it was finally time to still the "hunger" against the hated system. But what was the attraction between these two seemingly antagonist political movements? And should we take this unique historical situation as an example for the modern national and communist movements?

To answer these questions we have to look at the political and economic relations during the last four years of the Weimar republic. After the first hyperinflation crisis of '23 in the defeated Reich a second wave of economic crisis and social instability hit Germany in '29. The social democrats of the SPD, known as "social fascists" by the communists - fascists pretending to be socialist -, drastically deteriorated the circumstances for the German workers, thereby decreasing wages (up till 8%!) and increasing unemployment. Also the police repression and ban on the Wehrverbande SA and RFB led to discontent among the far right and far left in the political spectrum against the hated "sozi's" (social democrats).
During times of total crisis in the Weimar republic the national socialists as well as the communists saw themselves in the first place as socialists and their ideology as the only solution for the bad situation in Germany and that of the German proletariat. Next to the fact that they saw Germany as a semi-colony that was chained by the Diktat of Versailles and its eternal repatriations to the Dawes and later Youngplan, they saw a united enemy in the betrayers of the German social democracy. Both groups knew a strong anti-capitalist tendency. Although their anti-capitalism came from a different angle, this didn’t stop them supporting each other. For instance Ruth Fischer, leader of the leftwing of the KPD (Communist Party), spoke on a nationalist gathering for students in Berlin and met the anti-Semitic anti-capitalist critiques of the NSDAP: "Who comes into resistance against the Jewish capital, is a class warrior! (..) Trample these Jewish capitalists, hang them on lampposts, mash them and break them." Ernst Thalmann, chairman of the KPD, called out for a co-operation with the national socialists: "When strikes are organized in companies, it’s of fundamental importance that Nazi’s are also included in the strike committees". By this he meant the proletarian elements within NSBO and SA - the so called Nazi-prolets (Nazi proletarians).            

Within the transportation company BVG the "brown" workers fraction of the national socialists was represented by the NSBO, the union organization of the NSDAP. The red fraction was represented by the RGO, the Red union opposition of the KPD. Together national socialists and communists founded a central strike leadership that actualized demands such as more salary, a 40 hour workweek, better working conditions and most important the abolition of the agreements system (Hoffmannschen Akkordsystem).

Soon workers without a Party affiliation and members of the ADGB were drawn to the meetings of the national socialists and communists. The KPD remained in a dominant position in the committee, who tried to convert the whole events at the BVG as "an up rise of the class conscious workers masses". But in fact the KPD had lost much influence in most industry and workplaces in Berlin; over 80% of the KPD support was jobless. The national socialists, who formed a minority among the strike leaders, left it unattended because for them the wage demands and struggle against BVG leadership was of foremost importance.

On the 3rd of November 1932 the strike started. Eight national socialists had occupied a tram stop, but were beaten away by the police whilst two SA men were arrested. A half hour later several national socialists and communists in the Reichs capital occupied several tram- and U-bahn stations, stopped the passing transport and removed all passengers from the vehicles. Armed with shields, the protesters put up a blockade against the police, whilst workers were informed to lay down their work. Scraps were attacked and their way to work was blocked. The communists handed out flyers against the SPD and the unions; remarkable was the fact that no single word of criticism of the communist propaganda was aimed against the NSDAP. In the late hours of the 3rd and 4rd of November street fights broke out with the police, streets and vehicles were destroyed and so-called "strike kitchens" appeared. In the heat of the battle many SA, SS and RFB members as well as many non-Party workers joined the protest. In these events the SA could be seen as the main engine of resistance and violence. Some SA members wanted to invigorate the strike by experimenting with explosives, this in disfavor of the communists. The streets of Berlin became the arena of mass activity of big social discontent aimed against the system in which the KPD leadership through the committee and her publications provided theoretical interpretations. But the real vigor on the streets was provided by the SA and SS.            

On the third day of the strike, known as "Red Friday", several people were killed among the national socialists, communists and other workers, among the deadly victims was the well known SA-man Kurt Reppich. 47 people were wounded and 583 arrests followed the events. The leaderships of the NSDAP and KPD in the person of Joseph Goebbels and Walter Ulbricht interfered in the protests to win votes for the upcoming elections which followed on Sunday. Hitler’s decision to call the SA back to the barracks quickly ended the strike. The SA, who formed the true vigor and force behind the strike were now restricted in numbers and could no longer participate in sabotage actions.

Despite the fact that the co-operation during the BVG strike was not a matter of "hand in hand", but rather a matter of "shoulder against shoulder", it cannot be denied that both parties swapped their political interests for economic interests - both longed to change the conditions they lived under. During rallies, gatherings and protests there were clashes of violence between communists and national socialists, but on many occasions they also supported each other because they lived in the same neighborhoods and knew each other pretty well. This took shape in common actions against evictions, rent increase and so on. One must not look in black and white shades if it comes to the relations between communists and national socialists in the Weimar era.  

A RFB-Führer during the strike shouted: "When the Party (KPD) will not fight the struggle against the fascists (the social democratic reaction), we will simply join forces with the Nazi's." Johannes Engel, founder of the NSBO who continued to strike even after the Party leadership in Munich had stopped to support the strike, can be cited through this words: "Who under the current situation does not yet have the courage to openly count himself to the national socialists, has to vote on the communist candidates, but certainly not on the free unions ("Freie Gewerkschaften")! I support the supervisory for the same reason the communists do." Engel his steadfastness costed him the prospect on a better position within the NSDAP.

If there is one thing the events during the BVG strike teach us is that the nationalist and socialist movement does not rule out each other, but complement each other because they have a common enemy: the ruling capitalist system and its crisis.

Source: Nationale Socialistische Actie / Autonome Nationale Socialisten

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