Posts Tagged ‘otto dix’

Prosthetic Man: The Wounded or Disabled Veteran
a satirical article in Die
1920 looking at what he called the ‘prosthetic economy
Raoul Hausmann mimicked the celebratory rhetoric heard more and more
often extolling the great potential of prosthetic technologies for
the regeneration of the country. ‘The prosthetic-person

is therefore a better human being, raised thanks to the world war to,
so to speak, a higher class’. One such technology, the Brandenburg
artificial arm, is ‘the greatest wonder of technology and a great
mercy’, impervious to scalding heat or even to being shot, and able
to work a 25-hour day without becoming tired. Prostheses ensure
higher taxes for the Fatherland, and prosthetic men require less
food: ‘thank goodness there are still upstanding lads – and we
can remember this for the new big war – when in principle we will
have just two types of soldiers: those who will be shot dead right
away, and the second type, those who are presented with prostheses.
With these people we will manage Germany’s rebuilding – that’s
why every reasonable person demands a prosthetic economy instead of a
council dictatorship’.

as the hopes for a council republic were fading, Hausmann ironically
presents the prosthetic state as the capitalist response to communist
social transformation. Hausmann’s satire is telling precisely
because the language he uses and the themes he takes up were not
uncommon at the time. Medical and popular discourses of prosthetics
put forward techno-utopian visions of bodily regeneration and
transformation. More concretely, Hausmann’s satire shows the extent
to which ideas of rehabilitation were read through an economic lens;
the value of prostheses could only be measured in terms of labour,
extensions of Taylorist and Fordist strategies of efficiency
integrating workers with the machine. Hausmann’s own art developed
this satirical perspective through
the production of cyborg bodies whose various mechanical components
extend the body’s potentials in mysterious ways.

was deeply attuned to the ways in which capitalist practices
reengineered bodies and subjectivities. As his references to war
suggest, however, he had a more concrete phenomenon in mind, namely
the huge number of war veterans who had been wounded or disabled.
Even as many of them were being shunted to the streets or confined in
institutions, programmes were being implemented to integrate them
back into the workforce and, crucially, to lessen state obligations
towards them. Unlike the decontextualised presentation of bodily
injury we saw in Dix’s Two
his many canvases showing disabled veterans begging on the streets,
Hausmann’s satire is carefully attuned to the concrete politics at
play, suggesting that the politics of disability can only be
understood in relation to a broader project for the production of
labouring and fighting bodies.

broadly, however, in the culture of the period the figure of the ‘war
cripple’ or ‘war wounded’ (The
term ‘war cripple’ (Kriegskrüppel)
was commonly used,
sometimes by the artists
I will discuss here. As we shall see the term was sometimes rejected
for its stigmatising implications. Other common terms included ‘war
invalid’ (Kriegsinvalider)
or ‘war wounded’ (Kriegsbeschädigter
Here I will vary my use of the English equivalents to fit the context
– although, as with the term ‘sex worker’, I will use more
contemporary terminology in my discussion as well). One of the
underlying themes in this section
will be to highlight the implications of different ways of
conceptualising serious injury, impairment, and disability.
joined that of the prostitute as one of the most complex and
overdetermined symbols of the Weimar period, the two together
providing a gendered pair embedded deeply in practices of social
hygiene and eugenics.   At one level, the constant recurrence of
images of wounded and disabled veterans simply reflected the massive
bodily impact of the War. While exact numbers are difficult to come
by, Robert Whalen estimates that 4.3 million German soldiers were
wounded during the War. In 1920 the government officially recognised
over 1.5 million as officially disabled, making them eligible for a
pension. That number was reduced later in 1920 by giving those with a
disability defined as ten percent or less a lump-sum payment, and
again in 1923 for those with less than a 25 percent disability. The
percentages reflect the state’s attempts to manage social welfare
programmes by categorising disability; the numbers were tied directly
to work, with the percentage reflecting the presumed reduction in
ability to labour. Both in terms of state expenditures and labour,
the question of disability thus loomed large in Weimar economic and
political thinking, with the state trying to manage these issues
through the
twinned projects of welfare and prosthetics. Disabled veterans and
their dependents, along with other disabled people, often challenged
these state practices, however, meaning that the politics of
disability remained a major field of contestation throughout the
Weimar period. It was in this context that artistic representations
of war-related injuries and disabilities emerged, a perspective that,
in many cases, was shaped by artists’ own experiences in the War.

veterans occupied a distinct and conflicted position in relation to
broader discourses of disability. Not only were almost all of them
men, as soldiers they had, according to the rhetoric of war,
performed a peculiarly masculine bodily sacrifice. As politicians
frequently proclaimed, they were owed the ‘thanks of the
Fatherland’. At the same time, though, social hygienic discourses
had long read people with disabilities through narratives of
degeneration and the health of the Volkskörper.
Thus, disabled veterans were caught up in two potentially
contradictory modes of understanding, what we might call the heroic
and the social hygienic narratives. These competing discourses had
directly material implications, particularly in contestations over
pensions or other benefits. Disabled veterans drew on the heroic
narrative not only for their own identity formation, but also to
argue for state support. Indeed, soldiers had access to state support
that was denied other disabled people, as there was a network of
state and district welfare bureaus (Fürsorgestellen)
dealing with disabled veterans and war survivors that was separate
from other welfare and disability programmes. As Dix’s
configuration of the wounded veteran in Two
however, and as I will argue here, wounded and disabled veterans were
never entirely able to escape from the pull of narratives of social
hygiene, demonstrating in the process the centrality of a politics of
disability to the embodied logic of capitalist modernity more
generally, and Weimar society in particular.

the Weimar period support for disabled veterans and their dependents
made up a significant proportion of state spending. While the number
of disabled veterans receiving pensions had declined to 720,000 by
1924, that year also saw 365,000 widows, 962,000 half orphans, 65,000
full orphans, and 194,000 dependent parents receiving public support
through the military pension system, with the broader war-related
pension and welfare programmes taking up fully one-third of
government funds between 1920 and 1932. Other social groups – such
as Sozialrentner,
who lived on funds from disability, old-age, or accident insurance,
and the Kleinrentner,
who had seen their income from savings and investments wiped out by
inflation – likewise staked a claim to state support as victims of
war. These social programmes were deeply shaped by the broader social
welfare system in Germany on which… the SPD in particular sought to
ground its place in Weimar politics.

welfare had a long history in Germany, implemented originally by
Bismarck as part of his attempts to undercut the growing influence of
the left. As Andreas Killen puts it: ‘Germany’s social
legislation was conceived as the cornerstone of a policy aimed at
taming the revolutionary impulses of the working classes, which it
sought to redirect into what [Thomas] Mann called a revolution of the
body’. This revolution of the body was the point at which social
welfare and social hygiene intersected. Prior to the First World War,
welfare had been run primarily by confessional organisations, with
poverty configured through a paternalistic model that differentiated
deserving from undeserving poor. The pre-War SPD resisted these
stigmatising social welfare perspectives and argued for universal
state programmes. The war years saw welfare programmes move somewhat
in this direction. As we saw in the second chapter, existing social
programmes expanded and changed as the state and military attempted
to sustain the war effort. Young-Sun Hong argues that: ‘World War I
precipitated a contradiction in the conditions of social reproduction
in Germany because the social programs undertaken to mobilize the
home front and the increasingly industrialized war effort tended to
undermine those relations of political authority and social deference
which the war was being fought to preserve’. It was in this sense
that, as we saw, the state was increasingly delegitimised during the

the War, war-related disability had already been presented as a
distinct social welfare issue. In early 1915 the prominent
orthopaedic surgeon Konrad Biesalksi argued in the Reichstag that
state resources should be redirected to support disabled veterans on
the grounds that, ‘firm like the phalanx of our fighters on all the
borders, inside the country stands this social dam’. Biesalski’s
comments reflect the militarised logic of total war… with the
defence of both internal and external boundaries crucial to its
prosecution. This logic translated into the language of treatment as
well, with work the measure of success. Like the deserving poor who
could be helped up by welfare, ‘it was the will
to work
would propel the disabled veteran back into the self-esteem of social
productivity’. Medical treatment itself was frequently configured
as a battle of wills between doctor and patient. Some veterans’
organisations strategically took up this view as well, arguing that
the ‘will to work’ of disabled soldiers was more
than in the population at large. Underlying all of these claims was
the implication that some disabled people displayed an inadequate
will; as with the ‘work-shy’ unemployed, this was the point at
which discourses of degeneration took hold.

the aftermath of the War, under the influence of the SPD, the logic
of welfare shifted to an extent. The SPD’s desired universal,
secular social welfare system was never realised, with the Weimar
system remaining a hybrid of confessional and state-run programmes,
and the punitive and stigmatising model of poverty also retaining
much of its strength. But the SPD did work to reform and expand the
social welfare system, seeking to shift away from the paternalistic
Bismarckian model even while still conceiving of social welfare in
terms of the containment of the radical left. In relation to
disability, the most tangible result of these reforms was the passage
of the Law of the Severely Disabled (Schwerbeschädigtengesetz)
in 1920, which was sponsored by the SPD but garnered cross-party
support. The law was notable in that it covered not only disabled
veterans, but also other disabled people (in particular those
disabled in accidents). Veterans
with a disability categorised as 40 percent and over qualified for
state support, but non-veterans only at 50 percent. The
categorisation of disability in this way gave doctors and bureaucrats
broad discretion in determining qualification; this became evident in
the late 1920s and early 1930s when doctors began to loosen their
criteria, leading to a large jump in the number of those covered by
the law. It
mandated that employers of over 25 people hire at least one disabled
person, the numbers increasing with the size of the enterprise. The
impact of the law was significant, ensuring relatively high
employment rates for disabled people. It was a remarkable piece of
legislation in this respect, but it also demonstrates the centrality
of labour to social welfare initiatives and the politics of

law intersected with the desire to reassert a gendered division of
labour that, as we saw in previous chapters, was a primary concern
across the political spectrum in the aftermath of the War. Those
covered by the Law of the Severely Disabled were primarily men, and
it was implemented at precisely the time that women’s labour force
participation was being discouraged by demobilisation policies. The
law was thus geared not only towards rehabilitation in terms of
disability, but also the reconstitution of masculinity. For the USPD
– who argued for increased pensions rather than the imposition of
workforce quotas in the initial debates over the law in 1918 – it
was precisely the gendered order that was at stake. Thus, the USPD’s
Karl Ryssel suggested that inadequate pensions would force the wives
of disabled men to work, undermining families and undercutting men’s
wages. In this context, not only were women more likely than men to
lose their jobs to disabled veterans, but disabled women
almost entirely absent from the debate.

extensive rehabilitation industry that sprang up early in the War
likewise took the male working body as its object. The development of
this industry cemented the professional claim of the medical
establishment, supplemented in the case of prosthetics by engineers,
to treatment of the disabled body. As Mia Fineman puts it, in the
aftermath of defeat, the ‘rehabilitation industry briskly stepped
in … to replace the amputated will to victory with a prosthetic
will to work’. It is this tendency that was satirised so
effectively by Hausmann. Prosthetic technologies were developed as
part of a reconceptualisation of the body that drew heavily on
Taylorist principles of rationalised production, as well as the
specifically European field of psychotechnics. For many in the
industry, the development of prosthetic technologies was celebrated
as a new frontier for German technological achievement, an
integration of medicine and engineering that, as Fineman suggests,
could redeem the failure of the War. The focus of production shifted
from aesthetic prostheses (that is, prostheses designed to mimic the
appearance of the limbs they replaced) to functional prostheses
designed to perform specific tasks; the former were still produced,
but were intended for leisure time or for workers who did not require
use of those limbs at work. The capitalist division of work and
leisure was thus reflected in prosthetic design itself.

Peter Sloterdijk argues, this homo
affinities to the armoured soldier-male of the radical right’s
imagination, both in terms of the emphasis on technology and the
premium placed on will. However, his argument tends to ignore the
extent to which disability was also enmeshed in the more mundane
bourgeois and managerial practices of labour, social hygiene, and
social welfare. Or, to put it another way, radical right ideologies
were not discontinuous with those practices. Sloterdijk’s approach
entails a rejection of the instrumental rationality on which
rehabilitation was based, but we need to be careful in drawing out
the implications of this critique. As Carol Poore argues, while
rehabilitation and welfare provisions reflected a technocratic and
potentially repressive approach, in many ways they also proved
enabling for disabled people. Germany provided more extensive
pensions and care for disabled veterans than other countries, and
rehabilitation, she argues, enjoyed significant success. In a social
context in which labour was ideologically and materially central to
everyday life, such provisions were crucial in sustaining quality of
life, a point that disability rights activists themselves stressed.
Some, including the prominent activist Otto Perl, argued for the
importance of orthopaedics and medicine in improving conditions for
people with physical disabilities, although he was sceptical of the
impact of the 1920 legislative changes, and argued that the high
point in this respect had been reached before the War.

interesting expression of the narrative of progress surrounding
prostheses was the way in which they were covered in the media. They
were often fetishised as markers of technological progress,
celebrated through articles and photographs in popular science
magazines like Die
As with Taylorist time-motion studies more generally, photography and
film were deployed in the service of rehabilitation, enabling the
representation and analysis of movement in the service of this
progress. The doctor Waldemar Schweisheimer tied this directly to
strengthening the will of disabled veterans: ‘[n]othing encourages
the war wounded [Kriegsbeschädigten]
more quickly and strongly, nothing gives them more hope and therefore
makes them more driven and skillful, as when they can see their
hard-working exercises presented to them, either in person or, when
that isn’t possible, in the excellent substitute of film’.

confident claim notwithstanding, it is clear that not all disabled
veterans shared this positive view of rehabilitation, with many
rejecting the reductionism of its individualising and rationalising
approach. In response, many turned to collective action. As mentioned
in the second chapter, wounded and disabled veterans played a
prominent role in the wartime protests. Their demonstrations
escalated after the War. A host of organisations speaking for
disabled veterans and other ‘war victims’ sprang up, divided
primarily along political lines. There were seven such major
organisations with a total membership of nearly 1.4 million in 1921.
The SPD-oriented Reichsbund,
founded in 1917, was the largest, while the KPD-oriented
International Organisation of Victims of War and Labour, which formed
out of a split from the Reichsbund,
encompassed over 130,000 members by 1921. Crucially, as the name
suggests, the communist organisation broadened the scope of those
covered to include work-related disability. The Weimar political
landscape was profoundly shaped by the agitation of these different

formation of these groups helped to ensure that disability became a
prominent public issue in the aftermath of the War, and also led to
an increase in the participation of disabled people who were not
veterans. At the same time, the new organisations drew on the work of
disabled activists who had long been agitating for social change.
Organisations of blind and deaf Germans had formed before the War,
and after the War they sought alliances with veterans. In the case of
blindness, this mobilisation won the expansion of social welfare
coverage beyond those blinded in the War. The Selbsthilfebund
der Körperbehinderten
League of the Physically Disabled [SBK]), also named the Otto
its founder, formed after the War to support all physically disabled
people. Perl’s own history of disability, published in 1926, was
notable for its critical analysis of changing institutional practices
around disability, rejecting especially the persistent reading of
disability in relation to labour. He argued that Luther’s
contention that ‘[w]hoever doesn’t work also shouldn’t eat’,
had profoundly shaped the modern conception of disability, inscribing
it in discourses of ‘worthiness’ that were profoundly troubling.

male disability-rights activists hoped to undermine the depiction of
disabled people as unwilling or incapable of work by mobilising
military and masculinist discourses of heroism. Disabled veterans,
the Reichsbund
stressed, were not just heroes of the War, but ‘heroes of everyday
life’ for the way in which they had to fight through poverty,
suffering, and the impact of their disabilities. Disabled
non-veterans drew on these themes as well. Carl von Kugelgen, who had
lost an arm in civilian life, rejected the stigmatising term
‘cripple’ [Krüppel],
especially for its association with begging, and the conception of
people with disabilities as being of lesser worth. ‘Having once
lost my arm’, he argued, ‘I would not – out of my conscious,
free will – have it any other way, for what appeared to be a loss
which would make me weaker has actually made me richer and stronger,
has made me into what I am. I want my destiny, I love my destiny, I
am my destiny’. The title of his book, written during the War,
rendered this revaluation of disability experience through a military
metaphor of male overcoming: Not
Cripple – Victor!

SBK thus argued for the deinstitutionalisation of disability and the
provision of support for work and independent living. This point was
made in Marie Gruhl’s presentation on behalf of the SBK at the 38th
conference on welfare in March 1924. Arguing that self-help groups
were the third pillar of social welfare alongside state and private
agencies, Gruhl argued that the place of disabled people was ‘not
in the infirmary, they belong in free living and work communities’.
Significantly, though, Gruhl (like the SBK more generally) focused on
physical disability; she stressed that she ‘is not speaking of the
mentally ill’. Mobilising this distinction between forms of
disability was part of the SBK’s strategic positioning by which it
sought to expand access to programmes and benefits for physical
disabilities to all disabled people, not only veterans. By
hierarchising forms of disability, however, this approach ran the
risk of reinforcing some dimensions of discourses of degeneration and
social hygiene.

of degeneration were founded on a close connection between bodies and
psyches, rendering the distinctions Gruhl and the SBK sought to
maintain extremely unstable. Interestingly, artists and writers
tended to reverse the stigmatising of types of disability, with
physical disability often presented through the lens of the
grotesque, and cognitive difference (madness) valorised as
potentially emancipatory and creative. In such artistic productions,
the prosthetic body itself tended to serve as an ambivalent symbol
for the fragmented state of modern
life. In this sense, the cultural politics of disability was closely
linked with ideas of fragmentation and totality outlined in the last
chapter. As with the prostitute body, representations of disabled
bodies tended to abstract them from the lived experiences and
material concerns outlined above, reading them instead through
fetishised or stigmatised tropes of bodily difference. Notable as
well is the fact that, despite the prominence of the various social
movements that I have touched on here, most artists tended to efface
the social constitution of disability.

of the most famous works using disability as a symbol for modern life
was Leonard Frank’s book Der
Mensch ist Gut
is Good
written during the later years of the War. Frank’s own career
followed the familiar trajectory from Expressionism to neue
He was associated with the Activist movement around Kurt Hiller whose
work was rejected by many left critics and artists for its espousal
of vague humanist and artist-led notions of transformation. For his
defenders, Frank’s work ‘had the effect of the unyielding
sobriety (Nüchternheit)
of photography’ associated with reportage. Man
is Good
made up of a series of loosely connected stories written in an
Expressionist vein, with the culminating part of the book focusing on
‘the war cripple’. This latter story begins in an operating
theatre behind the front, amputated body parts strewn about, with
both the doctor and patients trying desperately to sustain a sense of
coherence in the midst of this bloody fragmentation. Through this
bodily violence they find a shared humanity that transcends the
antagonisms of war, a theme familiar from Toller’s Transformation.
The mad, the blind, the cripples of all sides in the War are now
linked, thinks one soldier: ‘[t]hey wounded us, we wounded them.
And fundamentally we are all comrades’.

scene shifts to a troop train full of wounded soldiers returning to
the home front. Frank details the injuries, including a car full of
‘mad’ veterans, a man with severe facial injuries, and a man who
has lost all of his limbs. Upon arrival in a city the men disembark
and, in a typically Expressionist conclusion, lead a parade through
the town, the man with no limbs seated on a kind of throne leading
the way in this vaguely carnivaleque procession. The parade thus
serves as an integrative and redemptive spectacle. Only Jesus had a
bigger impact than the wounded veterans, the narrator says. Their
presence overwhelms the residents, who all gradually emerge out of
their homes and workplaces, shutting the city down. This event gives
rise to a new human, and a new humanity.

account participates in a number of very ambivalent conceptions of
disability. The Expressionist evocation of a social transformation
mediated by the intervention of these wounded and disabled veterans
is powerful in that it foregrounds the immense bodily impact of war
and configures the wounded and disabled body as a source of social
regeneration. In one sense the novel’s excessively visible
rendering of the bodies of disabled veterans can be read as an
implicit critique of the institutional practice of keeping veterans
with severe facial or other highly visible injuries confined in
secretive military hospitals away from the public view. However, as
Elizabeth Hamilton argues: ‘[d]epicting disability as a product of
damage, Frank upholds the notion that disability is derived from able
bodiedness and is not to be considered an experience in its own
right. When able bodiedness is validated in this manner, it is
impossible to speak of disability as anything but a problem or a flaw
whose solution lies in its prevention or cure’. In this sense
Frank’s work deploys disability as what David Mitchell and Sharon
Snyder have called a ‘narrative prosthesis’. They argue that
disability is anything but hidden in literature: ‘disabled peoples’
social invisibility has occurred in the wake of their perpetual
circulation throughout print history’. In this context, ‘disability
has been used throughout history as a crutch upon which literary
narratives lean for their representational power, disruptive
potentiality, and analytical insight. Bodies show up in stories as
dynamic entities that resist or refuse the cultural scripts assigned
to them’.

trope of disability is thus paradoxical, undermining but ultimately
guaranteeing normative forms of bodily and narrative coherence. The
problem, evident to a significant degree in Frank’s story and much
of the cultural production
of the period, is that disabled bodies tend to appear not in relation
to historical and material contexts of disability experience, but as
figures  enabling other narrative ends, in this case a
quasi-Expressionist transformation. As with prostitute bodies,
disabled bodies here work very much as a crutch supporting artistic
renderings of transgression and transformation. For critics like
Heinz Kindermann, writing in 1933, this represented an inadmissible
utopianism for which the ‘radical
of writers like
Brecht offered a necessary antidote.

constant return in this period to representations of non-normative
bodies foregrounded the very difficult problem of the grotesque
which… was central to avant-garde aesthetics. This problem of the
grotesque was itself part of the experience of disability and
impairment. As Robert Whalen argues in his history of the bodily
impact of the First World War in Germany, veterans’ experiences
by the grotesque. ‘Touched by grotesque death, they discovered to
their horror that they had become grotesque’. This was most notably
the case for veterans with severe facial injuries who, as indicated
earlier, were generally segregated from other patients and the
public. A
rather horrifying instance of the instrumentalisation of wounded
veterans came at the Versailles conference after the War. When the
German delegation came to the Hall of Mirrors at the palace to sign
the final document they were met by five French veterans, all with
severe facial injuries, who had been brought from their isolated
hospitals for the occasion. Clemenceau tearfully shook each of their
hands, a piece of political theatre in which the disabled veterans
were reduced to props in a spectacle designed to further humiliate
the Germans. By
appropriating this experience as a narrative prosthesis, though,
Frank largely loses a sense of this materiality of the grotesque.
Rather, as with so many of the prostitute bodies we saw previously,
the grotesque body becomes merely a vehicle for the production of a
utopian, and often masculine, wholeness.

Friedrich’s pacifist polemic War
Against War!
a sharp political work that highlights the problem of representation
evident here. War
Against War!
a photo-book produced as part of the anti-war events of 1924,
confronts the reader with page after page of photographs of the
bodily impact of war, with facial trauma especially prominent. ‘At
last’, he has an imagined reader say, ‘at last the mask has been
torn away from this “field of honour,” from this lie of an
“heroic death,” and from all the other beautiful phrases, from
all this international swindle the mask has at last, yea, at last,
been torn away!!’ The ‘true’ face of war is revealed.

today, War
Against War!
a powerful and challenging indictment of war, its visceral impact
driven by the images of destroyed bodies. Aesthetically, Friedrich’s
deployment of the grotesque body was rooted firmly in a critical
documentary practice similar to that of Dix, but deployed now true
and faithful to nature, has been photographically recorded for all
time’. Notably, many of the photographs came from the growing
medical and
rehabilitation literature. Friedrich radically repurposed these
images, wrenching them out of their medical context and using them to
challenge the interlinked discourses of militarism and pathology. It
was especially his use of these images that sparked massive protest
from the right, who denounced his book as a sacrilege against
veterans, the military, and the nation. Unlike Dix’s appropriations
of these images, Friedrich’s work was arguably more complex in the
sense that, in his documentary insistence on the materiality of those
bodies, he went beyond a merely instrumental aestheticisation,
challenging instead the production of the grotesque body in war

all of the examples I have touched on here it is clear that the
grotesque body, as Mary Russo argues, cannot be understood outside of
its gendered implications. The degree to which such bodies served as
a vehicle for the expression of a crisis of masculine
was especially evident in Dix’s work. As I have argued, his Two
an asymmetrical relationship between the figures of the prostitute
and the war wounded that revolves around anxieties over a damaged
masculinity. Friedrich makes a similar connection in depicting a
group of sex workers in front of a brothel behind the front, although
in War
Against War!
don’t find the same antagonistic relationship set up with soldiers.
Dix, however, returned obsessively to the theme of the grotesque as a
crisis of masculinity. One of his most famous works, Prague
depicts a disabled veteran begging on Dresden’s elegant main
commercial street. His three prosthetic limbs and his distorted
posture link discourses of disability directly with avant-garde
concerns with the fragmented modern body. In one sense the work
offers a simple message, presenting ‘the viewer with a contrast
between the plight of the war cripple and the callousness of the
public’. This humanist pity is by no means the dominant frame,
however. What is striking in Prague
not the contrast between disabled bodies and the implied able-bodied
public of the humanist narrative, but rather the fact that none
the bodies in the image are in fact rendered as whole. The man in the
foreground has no legs, while the other people on the street are
represented solely as body fragments: an arm and a hand on the left,
and the leg and buttocks of a woman on the right. The dog and cat are
likewise only parts, while the one ‘whole’ figure, the child at
the shop window, is presented with her legs askew.

of the key dimensions of Prague
the association of this bodily fragmentation with commerce and
commodities. The beggar eking out a living from the coins thrown by
shoppers contrasts sharply with the opulent displays of commodities
in the stores. The shop windows also display dismembered bodies, this
time of female mannequins. They are distanced from the beggar by
their gender and their association with luxury and consumption, but
they also reinforce the notion of bodily fragmentation. Where the
gendered distinction is cemented is through the voluptuous woman
moving out of the frame. Her buttocks loom over the man, the bright
colours of her dress and her fleshy body contrasting strongly with
the emaciated figure beneath. Her tall boots enhance her
sexualisation, with the suggestion being that she is a sex worker.
Once again we find the pairing of the disabled veteran and the
prostitute, with the image again reading masculinity in terms of the
grotesque body threatened by an excessive femininity.

implications for a politics of disability are especially clear in
Dix’s 1920 War
which was exhibited in the first International Dada Fair in Berlin.
Dix’s work had alternate titles, notably 45%
Fit for Employment
– which threw an ironic light on state categorisations of
disability for welfare claims – and subtitles, including ‘a
selfportrait’ and ‘four of these still don’t add up to a whole
person’. War
similar devices to Prague
again juxtaposing the broken men with the various fragments of bodies
behind them: a boot, an arm, a head. Wearing their uniforms and
medals proudly, the men march down the street in a parody of a
military parade. Various common injuries and disabilities are
represented here. The first man displays Dix’s fascination with
facial injuries, while the second’s shaking outline suggests shell
shock, a physical manifestation of the psychological impact of war
that, as I will discuss later, gained great prominence in the First
World War. What the image suggests, however, is the absurdity of the
bodies. They embody a parodic militarism (and indeed the image can be
read as a commentary on the participation of some disabled veterans
in nationalist and militarist organisations), and their grotesque
bodies take on an almost comic air. This grotesqueness is
reappropriated for Dada; the montaged face of the last figure implies
a direct link between Dadaist aesthetics and facial injuries.

critique of militarism here is at best oblique. As Dora Apel argues,
Dix separates militarism from masculinity, his work stressing the
‘desperate fight by the individual soldier-male against death and
disfigurement’, a potentially anti-war theme, but offering a
regenerated masculinity marked by struggle and overcoming as his
response. In this sense the violence enacted on the bodies of the
soldiers, like the graphic violence against women in many of his
works, was in the service of a nostalgic recuperation
of a coherent and whole male body and subjectivity.

nostalgic desire was expressed explicitly in Dix’s Self-Portrait
with My Son Jan
1930. As Maria Tatar argues, the painting serves as a powerful
counterpoint to the rest of Dix’s work, an anchor guaranteeing in
the last instance the viability of the stable male artist-subject.
Dix’s interest in classical painting is evident here, the
dramatically different aesthetics of the work underpinning the
presentation of the recuperated male subject. ‘In an act of
artistic triumph, Dix erases the link between sexuality and creation,
negates human mortality, and recreates himself as the artist who
stands as the source of life and immortality. Here, the sensual woman
who threatens to overwhelm and crush the creative artist is effaced
to make room for the autogenous artist who has appropriated the
procreative powers of women and gone them one better by producing a
work of transcendent spiritual purity’. Not only does the erasure
of women here enable the work of the autogenous male artist… but,
when the classically whole bodies here are read in the context of the
fragmented bodies of the rest of his work, it also produces a
powerful reconstitution of normative male bodies untouched by
disability or the grotesque.

insistent association of disability with injured masculinity blocked
anycritical engagement with the politics of disability in the period,
and especially with its implication in practices of labour. His
approach represents an extreme version of the perspective that
animated the work of much of the avant-garde, but there were
alternative perspectives. Sella Hasse’s 1919 Blind
War-Cripple at the Machine
Kriegskrüppel an der Maschine
for example, is a woodcut of a worker operating a machine with a
flesh and a prosthetic arm, his seeing-eye dog at his side. Although
bodily exceptionalism is clearly the theme of the work, it is
presented in a matter-of-fact rather than grotesque fashion, although
tinged with a melancholia reminiscent of Hasse’s teacher, Kathe
Kollwitz. Yet this is not simply the normalised or integrated worker
that, as we saw earlier, was promoted by the rehabilitation industry.
Hasse’s worker may be ‘rehabilitated’, but the dark, enclosed
factory and the worker’s own expression suggests not a heroic
overcoming, but an extension of conditions of alienated labour.
Magnus Zeller’s 1919 Demonstrators
alternately entitled Demonstration
of the War Wounded
der Kriegsbeschädigten
likewise eschews the grotesque depictions of Frank and Dix.
Crutches and canes are in evidence, but it is the men’s haunted
eyes and drawn faces rather than their disabilities that suggest the
damaging impact of war. Like Hasse, Zeller, who had participated as a
delegate in the Berlin
Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council, foregrounds the social rather
than the bodily conditions of the veterans. It is the protest itself
that holds out the promise of transformation, not a dream of bodily

Hoerle’s work offers an even more striking contrast with that of
Dix. Part of a loosely organised group of artists in Cologne calling
themselves the ‘group of progressive artists’, Hoerle produced a
series of works throughout the Weimar period that took up themes of
disability. His 1923 The
for instance, presented this generic figure as a stylised man
stepping purposely forward on his prosthetic leg, a prosthetic arm
swinging ahead of him. As this image suggests, Hoerle saw the
disabled body as the archetypical modern body but, unlike with Dix,
he invested his portrayals with a much more complex set of
implications. Indeed, the ‘group of progressive artists’ in
Cologne – which included Franz Wilhelm Seiwert and Gerd Arntz along
with Hoerle – rejected the neue
general as well as the Verist stream of which Dix was the key figure.
Hoerle had significant connections with Dada, but looked more to
older forms of craft production for artistic inspiration, an
aesthetic orientation that he and his colleagues combined with a
commitment to a council communism. They sought, as Arntz put it, to
produce an art combining the ‘politically revolutionary’ with the
‘formally revolutionary’.

shared the Dadaist conception of the contemporary body as irrevocably
fragmented and alienated, but his figures tended to be more formal
and geometrical than the ragged and proliferating bodies of Dada.
Prostheses were especially prominent in Hoerle’s work. Already in
1918–19 he produced a Cripple
deployed disabled bodies as markers of difference, but over time his
work shifted, the prosthetic body becoming indistinguishable from
other contemporary bodies, especially labouring bodies. Hoerle
frequently depicted workers with hybrid bodies, but the prosthesis in
his work was neither simply a symbol of technological modernism nor a
marker of lack; rather, it marked the body as productive in a more
complex sense. Hoerle’s workers embodied neither heroic
proletarianism nor absolute subjugation to the machine. He thus
arguably captured the ambivalence of capitalist labour as both
productive and repressive, enabling and disabling, but did not read
bodily difference itself as the locus of that disability.

1930 Monument
to the Unknown Prosthesis
der unbekannten Prothesen
is the most famous example of this tendency in his work. Rather than
the unknown soldier, it is the prosthetic that emerges as the hero of
war. The work thus satirises the technological nationalism of the
rehabilitation industry. But the two foregrounded figures in the
painting are not themselves the source of satire. They are doubled,
the black interior head of the man on the left evoking the severe
facial injuries that Dix and Friedrich used to very different effect,
while the impossible prosthetic head of the man on the right gestures
perhaps to the psychological impacts of war. Both interior heads are
inscribed in a ‘whole’ head, the interplay between the two
elements of each head destabilising not only normative ideas of
embodiment, but also the relationship between inside and outside.
Like x-ray images that show the ‘true’ bodily structure beneath
the skin, the interior, non-normative heads of the two men appear
here as an inner truth of contemporary subjectivity….

work thus destabilises the nostalgic desire for the whole body.
Prostheses mark the body as modern, but not as grotesque or as
lacking. Hoerle’s gender politics is interesting, if ambivalent, in
this respect. In Two
Cripples and Woman
Krüppel und Frau
1931) the two male ‘cripples’ are similar to those in Monument,
but in this case paired with a woman’s figure represented as whole,
her voluptuous curves contrasting with the linear bodies of the
disabled men. The moment of nostalgic wholeness is thus gendered
feminine, while the modern, the age of the prosthesis, is masculine.
Earlier, however, in his series Women
1919–21, Hoerle produced what was a very rare depiction of disabled
women. In part his series evoked the mannequins that, as we saw with
Dix, were a familiar medium through which the modern female body was
represented, but this was not the case in Figure
with Corset
im Korsett
c. 1921). Here an armless and hairless woman is depicted marching
resolutely, one leg clad in a fashionable high-heeled boot, the other
a prosthesis.

last work is exceptional in shifting the representational terms of
disability, both in terms of the sheer fact of this being a female
figure, and in depicting her as one of the prosthetic figures who
embody modern subjectivity. More generally in the period, from
debates over welfare programmes to the plethora of images produced,
it was male disability that was the focus. In this sense, then, the
work of Dix, Frank, and others simply reflected the broader
discursive context. The almost complete absence of disabled women
from public discourse was in part due to the sheer number of disabled
men in the aftermath of the War, but also reflected the profoundly
masculine conceptions of labour that structured Weimar politics.

themes were evident in Ernst Toller’s play Hinkemann,
which was staged initially in 1923, then rewritten and mounted again
in 1924 to great scandal. In this play Toller treated disability not
as a figure for a universal crisis of modern subjectivity, but rather
as a concrete instance of a crisis of masculinity. Unlike with Dix’s
work, though, it is not the degenerative influence of the feminine
that drives this crisis, nor does Toller present us with a nostalgic
masculine wholeness as resolution. The play instead reads this crisis
more concretely in terms of militarist ideologies, but also through
the lens of class, a perspective different from his Transformation.
Yet the play continued to reflect Toller’s ambivalence about the
communist left and his sympathy for Expressionist ideas of social
transformation. As with his earlier work, the body emerges as the
site of social contestation, with the limitations of the left read in
terms of the inadequacy of their politics of embodiment. Thus, as
with Transformation,
in Hinkemann
is deeply attuned to the embodied dimensions of a radical politics.

play revolves around the character Eugene Hinkemann (‘hinken’ in
German means to limp, as well as to be inappropriate), a war veteran
who in outward appearance is large, strong, and masculine, but who
has returned castrated, one of those Hirschfeld called the ‘eunuchs
of war’. Hinkemann’s relationships with his wife, Margaret, and
with his working-class and leftist milieu are profoundly shaped by
his injuries. Margaret has an affair with Paul Grosshahn, a virile
and masculine worker, to whom she reveals Hinkemann’s secret.
Grosshahn responds to this news by claiming that it would be a sin
for her to stay with Hinkemann, he ‘who isn’t a man – a sin
against nature’. Hinkemann’s castration thus marks the bodily
site of the crisis of masculine subjectivity.

crisis is bound up with Hinkemann’s inability to find work. He
eventually finds a job in a circus freak show – but ironically as a
strong man who drinks the blood of rats and mice. The conflict
between his hidden unmanning and his public performance of an
extraordinary vampiric masculinity highlights the disjunctures of
gendered identity formation. His work in the carnival, a central
venue for the display of the grotesque, enables him to perform a
masculinity that, according to essentialist notions of genital
masculinity, should be inaccessible to him; this awareness only
augments his humiliation. For Toller, this embodied crisis is both
aesthetic and political, a point he makes explicit in the brief
appearance of the tattooed woman Monachia who ‘wears the greatest
works of art of the old masters in front and the most modern,
expressionist, futurist, dadaist confections behind’. Her name is a
feminine variant of Monachium, the Latin name for Munich, her body
thus displaying the aesthetic duality that, at the time of the
revolutionary upheavals in which Toller played such a central role,
split the city. Monachia’s literal embodiment of this ‘high’
art in the context of the circus, a most crass form of mass culture,
performs a carnivalesque reversal that takes the female body as its
ground. The old masters are of course on the front of her body, the
side of the classical nude, while the avant-garde occupies the rear,
their artistic experiments associated – as it was so often in the
avant-garde’s own practices – with the lower bodily strata.

herself is torn by the situation, returning to Hinkemann after seeing
him while on a visit to the circus with Grosshahn. But she is
ultimately unable to reconcile herself to Hinkemann’s condition,
later committing suicide. Hinkemann too reaches the point of
contemplating suicide, although the play leaves his fate open. Before
we reach this point in the narrative, however, Toller outlines the
political implications of Hinkemann’s disability. Hinkemann sits in
a pub debating politics with a group familiar from the concluding
scenes of Transformation:
a scientific socialist, a Christian, and a utopian-socialist or
anarchist. From the scientific socialist – with his belief in the
inevitability of revolution – Hinkemann demands to know what would
happen in the new state to those who are wounded or mad. They will be
humanely cared for, the socialist responds. Hinkemann suggests that
there are more complex injuries, hinting at his own. The socialist

are no such people. People with healthy bodies have healthy souls.
Common sense will tell you that. And people who are not right in
their heads belong in an asylum.

rejects this socialist eugenics and presses the issue. He asks about
eunuchs, giving the example of his ‘friend’ who, he says, was
injured in such a way. The scientific socialist has no answer. At
this point Grosshahn comes in and starts to reveal Hinkemann’s
secret; Hinkemann pre-empts him, confessing his condition and
addressing his interlocutors:

You don’t know what it feels like – torture. What a change
there’d have to be before you could build a better world …
Words are all very fine for people in good health. But you don’t
see the places you can’t reach. There are people you can’t
happy with all your states and society and family and community. Our
sufferings begin where your cures end.

people in the bar are moved by his speech, but Hinkemann leaves and
begins to descend into madness, hallucinatory sequences interspersed
with snatches of ‘reality’. He is visited by visions of the
denizens of the post-War city, wounded soldiers and prostitutes
prominent among them. Hinkemann, who has bought a phallic statue of
Priapus, a fetish object connecting individual masculinity with
social power, laments the inevitability of fate. The original version
had Hinkemann preparing a noose for himself; the 1924 version,
rewritten after left critics found the original too pessimistic,
leaves him in this liminal state.

refuses the Expressionist narrative of overcoming so central to
but also rejects the alternative of a left social hygiene experiences
of disabled veterans more broadly, who felt increasingly abandoned in
the post-War years. In part this was due to a cultural tendency to
repress the experience of the War, a point made in the play by the
circus boss who tells Hinkemann

the war’s a back number now. Peepshow ‘the horrors of war’
won’t earn sixpence.  Nowadays Progress is the world. Hundred
percent profit in it. War held no interest to the commercial
entertainment industry.

the same time, the ‘progress’ promised by the scientific
socialist, on the other hand, offered little more hope than this
sanitised capitalist vision. Toller’s anti- capitalism thus linked
a critique of progress with a deep suspicion of the masculinist
ableism of the left. In its original version, the play was framed
more explicitly as a critique of nationalism as well, the 1923 title
being The
German Hinkemann
Toller himself wanted to promote a more universalist meaning,
dropping the ‘German’. The right certainly continued to read it
as an affront to the nation, however, mobilising against the play and
disrupting its performances.

is notable in the play is that Toller does not dwell on the
metaphorical dimensions of Hinkemann’s genital injuries, but has
Hinkemann stressing their materiality. In this sense Toller was
drawing on broader debates amongst doctors, psychiatrists, and other
researchers on the ‘eunuchs of war’. As Sabine Kienitz argues,
genital injuries proved challenging to biological conceptions of
gender, with both cultural and scientific responses seeking to
reinscribe normative models of genital masculinity. Toller drew on
these anxieties to provoke a critical confrontation between the
militarised masculinity of the nation, the proletarian masculinity of
the scientific socialist, and the complex politics of the grotesque
body. His challenge, however, gave rise to its own problems. Toller’s
account relied on stereotypes of working-class gender roles evident
in Margaret’s passive femininity and Grosshahn’s crudely
misogynist masculinity. As Richard McCormick argues of Hinkemann:
‘[a]ggressive proletarian masculinity and passive proletarian
femininity are critiqued from the standpoint of a castrated hero who
embodies the virtues of a somewhat androgynous and enlightened (male)
intelligentsia’ For all his attention to the material body,
Toller’s vanguard figure is thus again marked by an Expressionist
desire for the transcendence of that body and its base sexual

desire for a reconstituted masculinity returns us to the
rehabilitative politics of the period that sought to overcome the
sense of bodily lack or loss so evident in Hinkemann.
Where Hinkemann came up against the limits posed by the stigmatising
and marginalising constitution of disability as a social
rehabilitation offered the promise of an individualised
of the body. Thus, in rehabilitation practices, ‘the maimed body of
the disabled veteran was bolstered by an incipient quasi-scientific
identity politics centering on the concept of the Krüppelseele
soul)’. The concept of the Krüppelseele
in some ways represent a new understanding of disability,
incorporating a sense of bodily difference not wholly subsumed to the
logic of degeneration. This perspective was articulated by the
prominent orthopaedic surgeon Konrad Biesalski: ‘[j]ust as the
amputation stump is not just a severed piece of arm or leg, but
rather a new organ with its own biological laws, the cripple is not
merely the distorted image of a healthy person; rather, through the
interaction of the remaining powers a new, differently constituted
yet self-contained unity of body and soul arises – a special
biological person, whose own laws and capabilities must be studied
before attempting to interfere with them’. Or, as Biesalski argued
in a rather utopian speech to the Reichstag in January 1915 on the
medical and rehabilitative possibilities now available to deal with
war injuries and disabilities, ‘there really is no condition of
disability [Krüppeltum]
any more’. For the psychiatrist David Katz, writing in 1921, the
prosthetic should thus not be experienced as a foreign element, but
rather as part of an integrated body, which he argued involved
‘giving the prosthesis a soul’.

progressive, this conception of disability was profoundly ambivalent,
in particular by effacing any sense of the material implications of
different forms of disabled embodiment. Biesalski’s understanding
of disability rooted it firmly in the technocratic and rationalising
logic of the prosthetic and rehabilitation industry touched on
earlier, an approach committed to the therapeutic value of work. He
worked hard to promote this conception of disability, lobbying the
state but also engaging in popular education, including the
production of an educational film entitled Krüppelnot
und Krüppelhilfe
The technocratic and state-oriented nature of this approach was
evident in Biesalski’s stated goal of creating ‘taxpayers rather
than charity recipients!’ He looked towards a future where the
‘numerous war cripples should merge into the masses of the people
as if nothing had happened to them’. Unburdening the state of
responsibility for care lurked behind these arguments, a budgetary
imperative also underlying the diagnosis of Rentenpsychose
psychosis) that… proposed that reliance on state support was itself
the source of disability.

challenges the rationalising impulse of the rehabilitation industry.
Here the Expressionist desire for transcendence becomes more
concrete, grounded on the one hand in the intractable materiality of
bodily difference, and on the other in a rejection of a purely
instrumental conception of bodies. Toller demands a revolutionary
transformation of a social order that produces both bodily violence
and the subsequent stigmatisation of its effects. This is a challenge
he poses both to capitalist society as a whole, and to the left. What
he proposes is an alternative understanding of the body that stands
in opposition to ideas of degeneration. In tracing out a radical
Toller suggests that disabling social practices are simultaneously
psychological and bodily, signalling the need for a dramatic
reconceptualisation of subjectivity as part of a radical political
project. The impasse at the play’s end remained insufficiently
‘optimistic’ to some of its socialist critics, but it was
precisely here that Toller’s challenge to the left was posed. This
psychological dimension… was central to the complex debates over
aesthetic and political radicalism that shaped the culture of the

Robert Heynen, Degeneration
and Revolution:
Radical Cultural Politics and the Body in Weimar Germany.
Materialism series. Leiden: Brill, 2005. pp. 292-322

Art is, from top to bottom: 1)  page from Ernst Friedrich, Krieg dem Kriege; 2) Photo from Illustrierten Jahrbuch des Berliner Tageblattes, 1915; 3) Otto Dix, Prague Street; 4)  Heinrich Hoerle, Monument
to the Unknown Prosthesis
der unbekannten Prothesen
); 5) Otto Dix, War
or 45%
Fit for Employment
, 1920; 6) Photo of two war wounded from Deutsche Kriegsversehrte im 20. Jahrhundert website

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“On the morrow of the putsch, the Ruhr stood in the van of the armed struggle
and the organisation of workers’ power. In a number of places, a network of
workers’ councils and action committees had taken power. The action
committee in Hagen was a genuine revolutionary military leadership which
could call on 100,000 armed workers. The workers’ units went on the attack
on 18 March, and the Reichswehr pulled back its scattered forces, one of
which left behind for the workers of Düsseldorf 4,000 rifles, 1,000 machine-
guns, cannon, mortars and ammunition. Although the workers in the Ruhr
appeared to be the masters during the following week, they were so far ahead
of their comrades in the rest of the country that they were dangerously isolated.
Social Democrats, Independents and even Communists everywhere else had
willingly or unwillingly accepted the situation created by the return to work
and the breakdown of the discussions about forming a workers’ government.
The delegates from the Ruhr, Wilhelm Düwell on 21 March, and Graul on
the 23rd, described to the Berlin strike committee the situation in their region
and the danger created by the shortage of food. On 23 March, the Zentrale
sent Wilhelm Pieck to the scene. 

Political divisions ran deep. The committee
in Hagen was formed of Majority Social Democrats, Independents and two
Communists, Triebel and Charpentier. However, their party had just disavowed
them, because they agreed to open negotiations without being mandated to
do so. In Essen the executive committee, which was under Communist
influence, reacted to Hagen’s support for negotiations by considering how
to outflank its committee.
On 18 March, the action committee in Hagen called on workers who were
not armed to return to work. On 20 March, it made known its demands in
respect of the Reichswehr to General von Watter, who had waited until 16
March to dissociate himself from von Lüttwitz: these were that the Reichswehr
be disarmed and withdrawn from the whole industrial region, and that a
militia be formed under the control of the workers’ organisations. In the
meantime, ‘public order would be ensured by armed formations of workers’. Bauer replied by telegraph that these conditions were not acceptable, because
von Watter and his forces had not taken the side of the putsch. The Ministers
Giesberts and Braun came to the support of Severing, the Reich’s Commissioner,
in negotiations aimed at an agreement based on the ‘nine points of the trade

The talks opened in Bielefeld on 23 March in the presence of a vast
gathering of representatives of the councils in the principal cities, several
mayors and the representatives of the workers’ parties and trade unions,
including Charpentier and Triebel, the two Communist members on the Hagen
action committee. A small commission drew up a statement which all the
participants finally approved on 24 March. The representatives of the
government confirmed in it that they agreed with the programme of the trade
unions, and that they accepted a temporary collaboration between the military
authorities and the workers’ representatives whilst the terms of the agreement
were fulfilled. Josef Ernst was attached to Severing and General von Watter. It was expected that, in a first stage, the workers would retain under arms a
limited number of men whom the authorities would control, and who would
be recognised as auxiliary police. Most of the workers’ arms would be handed
in, and fighting was to stop immediately. 

These agreements were not respected in practice. Nonetheless, Wilhelm
Pieck, who learned that they had been signed when he arrived in Essen,
insisted that an armistice must be enforced which would enable the workers
to retain their arms, and to organise solidly the militia which had provisionally
been conceded to them. But he failed to convince the members of the
executive council in Essen, who did not regard themselves as bound by an
agreement in which they had had no say. Moreover, the men from Duisburg
and Mülheim, on the Left of this committee which the KPD(S) controlled and
under the influence of the opposition Communists, together with the members
of the powerful local new ‘unions’, amongst whom anarchists had real influence,
denounced the ‘traitors’ who had signed, and called for the struggle to be
continued. There was a crowd of rival revolutionary authorities, six or seven
‘military leaderships’, and each was trying to outflank the others.

On 24 March, the Essen executive council met in the presence of Josef Ernst
and of a ‘front-line’ delegate from Wesel, where the workers were attacking
the barracks. The representatives from Mülheim condemned any armistice
in advance, but admitted that they were short of ammunition. The council
refused to recognise the agreements, at which point the Hagen committee
declared that it was dissolved, and repeated its order that fighting must end.
This decision was ineffectual. On the next day, 25 March, a meeting was
held, again in Essen, of delegates of seventy workers’ councils in the Ruhr,
with the principal leaders of the ‘Red Army’. Pieck spoke to emphasise that
the agreements offered no guarantees, and he suggested that the workers
should retain their arms in the meantime, although he warned against
provoking fights. The assembly elected a central committee formed of ten
Independents, one Majority Social Democrat and four Communists. Pieck
said: ‘We have not succeeded in convincing the front-line comrades that it
would be better to stop fighting.’ 

Two days later, however, the central council in Essen decided, against the
opinion of its military leaders but in the light of the general situation, to
demand that the government open armistice negotiations.  The next day,
there was a conference in Hagen of delegates of the three workers’ parties.
Pieck spoke there to the effect that the situation was not ripe for a conciliar
republic, but that they should fight to arm the proletariat, to disarm the
bourgeoisie, and to reorganise and re-elect the workers’ councils.  The decision
was taken to negotiate, but also to prepare to resume the general strike in
the event of an attack from the Reichswehr. A second meeting of the councils,
which was called for the 28th by the Essen central council and at which Levi
was present, confirmed this position.  But on the same day, Hermann Müller
told the central council that he demanded as a precondition for any negotiations
that the illegal authorities be wound up and the arms be handed in. 

Fighting continued during these days, and the central council did not
succeed in imposing throughout the industrial region sufficient authority to
make its policies effective. In Wesel, the barracks had been under siege for
several days, and the ‘Red Army’ chiefs in Wesel issued fiery summonses
to battle which the central council criticised as ‘adventurist’. In Duisburg
and Mülheim, ‘unionist’ elements threatened to sabotage the industrial
installations and to ‘destroy the plant’ in the event of an advance by troops. 

A revolutionary executive committee, installed in Duisburg under the
authority of the ultra-leftist Wild, decided to seize bank accounts and all
foodstuffs, and called for the workers’ councils to be elected exclusively by
workers ‘who stand for the dictatorship of the proletariat’. Incidents began
to break out between workers of opposed tendencies, supporters or adversaries
of the armistice, and partisans or opponents of sabotage. A member of the
opposition, Gottfried Karrusseit, issued inflammatory proclamations, and
signed them as ‘Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army’. Pieck treated him
as a ‘crazed petty bourgeois’. 

The central council in Essen was in no better position to guarantee a cease-fire than the Hagen action committee had been a few days earlier. General
von Watter took advantage of this disunity and the internal differences in the
workers’ camp. He demanded from the Essen leaders that within 24 hours
they hand in to him four heavy guns, 10 light guns, 200 machine-guns, 16
mortars, 20,000 rifles, 400 boxes of artillery shells, 600 mortar bombs and
100,000 cartridges. If the arms and ammunition were not handed over to him
within the time limit, he would regard the workers’ leaders as having refused o disarm their forces, and having broken the agreement. The Essen council
replied to this provocative ultimatum by calling for a general strike. 

On 30 March, delegates from the Essen council were in Berlin, where they
took part in a meeting which included the leaders of all the trade unions and
workers’ parties, including Pieck and Levi. They unanimously decided to
demand from the Müller government that it take measures to ensure that the
Bielefeld agreement was respected, and that the military authorities were
rendered harmless. Five representatives, including Levi, were received by
Chancellor Müller, and demanded from him that General von Watter be
recalled.129 Their effort was in vain. The Chancellor replied that the agreement
had been one-sidedly broken, and he used the robberies, seizures of bank
accounts and threats of sabotage to justify ‘the maintenance of order’.

When Pieck returned to Essen, he found a state of extreme confusion. A
majority of the members of the central council had gone to Münster to negotiate
with Severing, and nearly all of them had been arrested by the army on the
way. Nonetheless, another general assembly of the councils for the industrial
region was held in Essen on 1 April, with 259 representatives from 94 councils. Pieck, an Independent, Oettinghaus, and the representative from Mülheim,
Nickel, reported on the events in Berlin, and the assembly adopted a position
on the armistice conditions. It issued an appeal to defend and develop the
network of workers’ councils. 

On 3 April, von Watter’s troops began their advance. They met only sporadic
resistance because the confusion and disagreement between different leaders
paralysed every slight attempt at coordinating the defence. The behaviour
of the soldiery when they were reoccupying the coalfield was such as to provoke the anger even of Severing himself. Soon, military courts were
passing heavy prison sentences on militant workers accused of crimes or
misdemeanours which were really requisitions or measures of struggle. A
month after the putsch had been crushed by the general strike, the accomplices
of the putschists took ample revenge in the Ruhr. 

The events of March 1920 were to have far-reaching effects. The Reichswehr
had restored order, and the crisis in the workers’ movement seemed to be
reaching its peak. The Zentrale’s vacillations, its evasions and its turns had
prevented the KPD(S) from reaping the rewards it might have expected from
the event. However, it was to try to deepen the crisis which surged up again
in the Social-Democratic Parties.”

– Pierre Broue, The German Revolution, 1917-1923. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006, pp. 372-377.

Photographs all show the ‘Red Army’ of the Rhineland during the March 1920 fighting. Sources are, from top to bottom: 1) The Rhineland during the World War. 2) RF News. 3) South German Photo Archive. 4) Getty. 5) Otto Dix, “Streetfighting.” Photo of destroyed 1920 art. Art for a Change.

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