Posts Tagged ‘e.o. hoppé’

“At the other end of the city, surrounded by waste land on the one side and the network of tracks
belonging to Berlin’s largest railway depot on the other, beyond the black silhouettes of the coal-stacks, glow the yellow lighted windows of the Rummelsburg Power Station.

This is the station which supplies East Berlin with light and power. The firemen, the trimmers
and slag- runners of the night shift came on at midnight. At that hour the great finger in the middle
of the boiler-room, indicating the number of kilowatts consumed over the entire system, was
standing at 20,000. By one o’clock, when the last trams stopped and the greater part of Berlin’s
meagre street lighting was turned off, the indicator had fallen to 12,000. The firemen then locked
the rotary grates, banked the fires to smoulder slowly, and shut the furnace doors.

Now they may rest awhile.

There are seventy men in the boiler-room; most are now sitting about eating the bread they have
brought with them. Others are standing in twos and threes talking together. One group is engaged in the eternal dispute-Social Democrats versus Independents, SPD v. USP Another lot in front of
No. 3 furnace is discussing the Union and the wages question.

An engineer comes in from the engine-room. He joins the group before No. 3 furnace and listens
to the discussion.

“They haven’t even the guts to insist on extra pay for night work.”
“Nor for Sunday work, either.”
“What do they think we pay our subs for, I wonder.”
“… and forbidden us to strike, too, they have.”

A trimmer joins the argument:

“Listen to them, Comrade Sült. Overtime pay for night work, extra for Sundays – that’s all they
can think of.”

“No harm in that, if they would set about getting it for themselves, and not wait for the Union
bosses to give them everything.”

“They’ll never strike, especially if it has to be done in spite of the bosses. And as for purely
political demands, they wouldn’t stir a hand.”

The two – Sült, the engineer, and Primelsack, the trimmer – walk across to the larger group in the middle of the room, where the discussion is of the war policies of the two socialist parties, and
the opposed views are being hotly disputed.

“Yes, and what have you gained? Right of assembly, you say. That’s all eye-wash! If you’d seen
the cops hoeing into us with their sabres you’d have known better.”

“Four more meetings they’ve broken up!”

 “Yes, and if it weren’t for the split….”

 “If it weren’t for the split one more party boss would be holding down a cabinet job, eh?”

“And shaking hands with the Emperor, like old Scheidemann,” adds Primelsack.

 “Now listen here, mates – don’t you let anybody persuade you to anything rash. Not even the
Independents can run their heads through a brick wall. We must all stick together and then, when
the men at the top give us the tip, sail in as one man.”
“And what if the men at the top never give us the tip?” asks Sült.

“Don’t you worry – it’ll come all right-the great thing is to sit tight.”

‘Yes, but for how long? Until every man jack of us is dead in the trenches, eh?”
“We must force the leaders’ hand.”

A Social Democrat begins to spout:
“The old Party is what it has always been, a powerful advocate of our interests. The SPD has
always worked for us….”

“Traitors, that’s what they are!”

“Traitors, eh? Which are more traitors – those who voted for three loans, or the others who voted
for five?”

“Nine, you mean, you’ve forgotten four.”

Primelsack is trying to persuade a fireman that there is only one weapon to use against the
Government and the leaders of the SPD in league with it-and that weapon is a hand-grenade.

Sült has returned to the engine-room; on the hard, white-tiled surface stand the turbo-generators
which supply one part of the Berlin complex with light and power – three gloomy, humpbacked
monsters rising almost to the glass roof of the engine-room. The paddle-wheels in their iron bellies
revolve continuously under pressure of the incoming steam, and the steam becomes motion, and the
motion, electricity.
Sült takes a rag from his pocket and wipes off the oil which has dripped from one of the plates. It
is the duty of the engineers to check the number of revolutions, the oil supply, the temperature of
the generators, and every hour to make corresponding entries on the slates. Sült stands fixed on one
spot, fascinated by the high- pitched humming of the machines. Here his mind is at home; here he is
rid of the feeling of impotence which overtakes him in political gatherings and in the fruitless
arguments with colleagues.
The workers’ organizations, the Unions, have failed of their purpose; have turned even into their
very opposites. They have taken from the workers their one defence – the right to strike. And the
Social Democratic Party, in which is concentrated the political will of the working class, has handed
over the masses who created it for their own emancipation, to exploitation and the firing-line.
The truce between Capital and Labour, the bill conscripting the auxiliary services, the political
strikes, and above all the strike of the Berlin metal workers in January, 1918, have shown on which
side the leaders are. They have become servants of the capitalist state, have accepted the task of
turning the workers into a smoothly-running part of the existing order.

Sült is still a member of the Party, still in the Union even. One must be where the masses are.
Who but the masses can do it? It is only those at the head who have sold themselves, and they must
go! Strike, that’s the thing-strike against the war, against the system, against everything and
everybody that supports the system. He considers the revolutionary group which Primelsack wants
him to join – representatives of the most divergent socialist views, they have come together into one
organization, all pledged to the achievement of one end – the overthrow of the system which
brought about the war. All members are recruited exclusively from the factories. They have had the
wits to keep their illegal work from coming to the knowledge of the professional leaders. But of
what use are a few thousand revolvers, and a few dozen hand-grenades? It is the masses we need, and the power of the masses, which lies in their work and in the machines that they serve.

Sült surveys admiringly the enormous belly of the turbine, the shaft of the generator quivering
blue under the strain of its revolutions. He senses in the metal all the strength of the firemen, all the
toil of a whole pitful of coal-miners, here concentrated, vibrating, and being translated into living
Sült understands every technical process of the electric power plant, understands the mechanism
of switches, the twofold system of cables which carries the current to the factories and drives the
machinery of Berlin. The turbines of the power station, the network of electric cables, the lathes and
steam hammers in the workshops – this, the power which drives all the rest, this is the foundation of
the capitalist state. The other – whether government, parliament, or military power – is mere
political superstructure. The working class can free itself only if it begins here, where its combined
strength is made operative – here in the workshops. Economic power, that is the lever. If we but use
it, then the cities are without light, the railway trains idle on the tracks, the military without
munitions. Let the general strike last but three days, the economic circuit is broken; then all
generals, ministers, and bosses will become amen- able. Let the general strike last eight days, then
the whole superstructure will collapse, and the political masters fall. Once we have the power in our
hands we can regulate our production and switch it over to the real needs of society.

power, that is the lever.  If we pull it over…

Sült does not need to look at the kilowatt-indicator. He has already heard the droning of his
growing heavier.
The invisible paddlewheels are still making the same number of revolutions but the load upon
them has become greater. The trams have started again, and with the dawning of the day ever more
and more factories hitch on to the source of power.
The consumption increases.

The kilowatt-indicator shows 18,000.

A bell rings in the boiler-room, simultaneously red lamps begin to glow beside the indicator.
Work has begun again – the fires are raked, the hard- baked slag is broken up, the rotary grate set
in motion again.

The consumption curve rises gradually to 36,000 kilowatts.

The normal day’s work has begun.

The firemen have all they can do. They regulate the temperature, adjust the water and CO
content of their boilers, open the draught, give the fires the necessary fuel. Columns of trimmers
replenish the bunkers and barrow out the ash into the yard.
The third shift makes the steam, and the steam is converted into current.
And the current drives the trams, laden first with workers, to the factories; an hour later it carries
the clerks, the stenographers and shop girls to the offices and stores. The current is driving the
engines, the cranes, the lifts in hotels; it fills the telephone and telegraph wires with humming life.
The third shift is spent – seventy exhausted figures moving about in the grey light which falls
obliquely from above into the boiler-room.

At eight o’clock comes the relief.”

– Theodor Plivier, The Kaiser Goes, The Generals Remain. Translated by A. W. Wheen. London: Faber & Faber, 1933. pp. 35-37.

Photograph is E.O. Hoppé, “Control Room, Klingenberg Power Station, Berlin, 1928.” Source.


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