Posts Tagged ‘weimar germany’

“It is important not to forget that the first concentration camps in Germany were the work not of the Nazi regime but of the Social Democratic governments, which interned thousands of communist militants in 1923 on the basis of Schutzhaft and also created the Konzentrationslager für Ausländer at Cottbus-Sielow, which housed mainly Eastern European refugees and which may, therefore, be considered the first camp for Jews in this century (even if it was, obviously, not an extermination camp). 

The juridical foundation for Schutzhaft was the proclamation of the state of siege or of exception and the corresponding suspension of the articles of the German constitution that guaranteed personal liberties. Article 48 of the Weimar constitution read as follows: “The president of the Reich may, in the case of a grave disturbance or threat to public security and order, make the decisions necessary to reestablish public security, if necessary with the aid of the armed forces. To this end he may provisionally suspend [ausser Kraft setzen] the fundamental rights contained in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153.” 

From 1919 to 1924, the Weimar governments declared the state of exception many times, sometimes prolonging it for up to five months (for example, from September 1923 to February 1924). In this sense, when the Nazis took power and proclaimed the “decree for the protection of the people and State” (Verordnung zum Schutz von Volk und Staat) on February 28, 1933, indefinitely suspending the articles of the constitution concerning personal liberty, the freedom of expression and of assembly, and the inviolability of the home and of postal and telephone privacy, they merely followed a practice consolidated by previous governments.“

– Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Homo Sacer Omnibus. Stanford University Press, 2017. p. 138

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“Nothing is more permanent than the change,” Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, issue 13, June 26, 1932. Cover.

“Man trägt mich bald von rechten zum linken und wieder vom linken zum rechten Ufer – und das nennen sie immer Rettung.” 

[AL translation:] “One soon carries me off, from right to left and then from left to right bank – and always, they call that salvation.“ 

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“Dernière,” Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, issue 13, June 26, 1932. p. 153.

“So ein Andrang! Wie heisst denn das neue Zugstück?” “Lieber Herr – die Glaubigerversammlung des Direktors findet da staff.”

[AL translation:] Such a rush! What is the name of this exciting new play?” “Dear sir, the director’s creditors have arrived to meet.” 

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“Comforting Certainty,” Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, issue 13, June 26, 1932. p. 148.

“Setzen wir die Herren nur in den Saffel, zusammenarbeiten werden sie das Pferd schon konnen?”

[AL translation]: Are we just putting men in the saddle, instead of working together to help the horse? 

The Papen Kabinett satirized – backstabbers, infighters, scoundrels.

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Gustav Wunderwald, Fabrik von Loewe & Co. (Moabit). Oil on canvas, 1926. 

Berlinische Galerie, BG-M 0356/77

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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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War, and the Cultural Politics of the Weimar Radical 

end of the War presented the radical right with a dismaying
spectacle. Not
only was the War lost, but the hated left seemed in the ascendancy.
The SPD quickly became the party of government, pushing for the
establishment of a parliamentary republic to replace the imperial
order, and various radical movements further to the left threatened
even greater social change. The ‘magic formula’ that the
radical-right author Ernst Junger had experienced in the unity of
August 1914 was shattered. Worse, the experience of war itself, the
life of the front, was no more. The masculine unity promised by war
was disintegrating under a nauseating onslaught of threatening
forces. That this unity had
never truly existed was of little consequence. Indeed, as we shall
see, for radical
right writers like Junger, Oswald Spengler, or Arthur Moeller van den
it was the struggle itself that was the most important value. In the
aftermath of war, all this was under grave threat.

radical right fears were built on the emergent politics and mythology
the two fronts. This mythological system certainly had material
roots. There is no denying that the impact of scarcity, deprivation,
and social upheaval on the home front produced a certain shared
experience, while for soldiers… there was also a powerful
commonality produced by the experience of danger and death shared in
close proximity. Frontline soldiers frequently developed a strong
sense of alienation from those who did not share their experiences,
with a special disdain for those serving in the Etappe,
or rear echelons of the front, and especially for officers who never
experienced trench warfare directly. The
widespread nature of this disdain and its political heterogeneity was
evident after the War. Dirk Schumann describes how in clashes in 1921
in Eilenburg and Eisleben between members of the Stahlhelm,
the right-wing Combat League, and the KPD’s Proletarian Hundreds,
the latter would taunt the Stahlhelm
not only for their support of authoritarian politics, but also for
being Etappenschweine
echelon pigs’), and hence not ‘true’ soldiers. To
speak of the myths of the two fronts is thus not to deny these
material realities and the ways in which they produced particular
forms of consciousness. Yet these seemingly shared experiences gave
rise to a wide range of responses. For some, it led to a rejection of
war, while others celebrated its violence. These different responses
had much to do with social and political background, especially
class. As we saw with the experience of August 1914, the idea of
‘unity’ needs to be carefully interrogated.

Domansky suggests, the delegitimisation of state authority and the
militarisation of society opened up space for new forms of political
mobilisation that the radical right moved to fill. The radical right
played a central counter-revolutionary role, with the suppression of
the left during the post-War revolutions providing the context within
which the radical right could translate their wartime experience, in
particular that of the trenches, into peacetime. The revolutionary
upsurges of 1918–19 were contained through a variety of mechanisms,
but it was the right-wing paramilitaries, the Freikorps,
that were the cutting edge of this often-violent process. The
somewhat heterogeneous in their social composition, but were driven
by NCOs and
frontline reserve officers violently opposed to the new Republic.
They attracted a range of participants including unemployed
white-collar workers, university
students and cadets, as well as some from lower-middle-class or rural

were involved in a variety of military actions, including battles to
defend ‘lost’ German lands in the Baltics, but their most notable
action was against the left. The post-War SPD-led government, with
Gustav Noske taking the lead, called upon them in numerous instances
to suppress the revolutionary left, the Freikorps
on these occasions to support the Republic they hated against what
they saw as the even greater danger of Bolshevism. (Muller
1925 remains one of the better accounts of the complex interplay of
forces around the suppression of the revolution. On Noske, who he
calls ‘[t]he most celebrated man of the bourgeoisie’ (p. 107), he
cites a passage praising Noske’s muscular counterrevolutionary
action from an article by Doris Wittner in the Acht
Uhr Abendblatt
‘the lines of his movement remind one of Meunier’s bronze men.
One grasps the psyche of this man from his body [Physis]’
(p. 107). This aestheticised masculinity suggests close links with
radical right conceptions of male embodiment. They
were not the only paramilitary formations to come into being in the
period. Home Guards (Einwohnerwehren),
for example, were militia that mobilised especially in rural areas,
but these were not as explicitly counterrevolutionary, responding
instead to broader fears of disorder and the protection of property.
If the War gave the radical right a new model for an ideal social
order, the counter-revolutionary fights of the post-War period,
especially those led by the Freikorps,
provided the mobilising centre around which they coalesced, and a
central element in the violent mythologies that sustained them
through the Weimar period. The emergence of the radical right was
certainly driven by a counter-revolutionary politics, but also by a
reaction to the gendered dynamics of the conflicts of war.

misogyny of the post-War radical right drew on a longer history of
antifeminism. Already before the War influential right-wing pressure
groups were a staple of political life. Some, including the League
for the Prevention of the Emancipation of Women, had anti-feminism as
their primary focus, while other larger organisations like the
Pan-German League advocated against changes in the gendered order as
part of a broader reactionary project. The former group recognised
the significance of women’s activism already at the outset of war,
writing to the government to express their worries over the
establishment of the National Women’s Service and arguing that ‘the
women’s movement is the only large organisation – even the Social
Democrats today are true
fighters – that, with a truly feminine lack of scruples, is making
use of the distress of the Fatherland to further their own goals’.

organisations tended to take the patriarchal social order as their
touchstone, but for the radical right that emerged during and after
the War it was a Volkskörper
on the two fronts that provided the horizon within which they
operated. Emblematic of this orientation was the emergence in the
later stages and in the aftermath of the War of an especially
pernicious myth, the legend of the ‘stab-in-the-back’
The contention was that the army, undefeated on the field of battle
and still possessed of the will to win, had been undermined and
betrayed by traitorous forces within – inside the military itself
in the form of shirkers, pacifists, or radical soldiers and sailors,
and on the home front, with its various threats to military order.
The myth was explicitly propagated by Ludendorff and others around
the High Command. On 1 October 1918, as the cohesion of the army was
becoming an important source of concern within the military,
Ludendorff warned:

own army is, unfortunately, heavily infected with the poison of
Spartacist-Socialist ideas. There is no relying on the troops
anymore… . So it is to be expected that the enemy will succeed
soon … Then our western army will lose its last self-control and,
in complete chaos, flee back across the Rhine and bring revolution to

outburst, often cited as an originary moment in the formation of the
legend, came at a small meeting of officers, among them Colonel Thaer
who later recorded them. …the front armies returning from the west
in fact demobilised in a much more orderly and organised fashion than
many historians have suggested (see also Bessel 1993). While this by
no means meant that they remained effective as a fighting force as
many proponents of the Dolchstoßlegende
it, he suggests that the sight of columns of troops marching back to
Germany in formation worked to give the impression of an undefeated
army, thus providing visual ammunition for those arguments. Notably,
recognising the links between strikes on the home front and the
conditions in
the army, Ludendorff likened soldiers’ resistance to the War to a
labour action, contending that those who remained willing to fight
‘would be greeted [by other soldiers] with the call of
“strike-breaker” and asked not to fight anymore’.

comments highlight a number of key aspects of the Dolchstoßlegende.
It was not military defeat in the conventional sense, but loss of the
will to fight that was seen as the source of Germany’s downfall.
view was shared lower down the chain of command in this respect as
well. The 11 November entry for the Second Battalion of the 31st
for example, captures the ambivalent feelings of its writer, who
suggests that ‘[t]he report [of the armistice] was received with
joy that the bloody war is henceforth at an end, and pride that,
until the last moment, when weapons were laid down, the battalion was
undefeated’. A similar perspective informed a 16 November
communication to the V Reserve Corps that stressed the positive
impact the returning troops could have: ‘The dignified and earnest
bearing of the troops should banish the despondency of the homeland;
the farmers and middle class at home should see that an undefeated
army returns in proud and unbowed bearing’. The stress on the
middle class and farmers betrays the concerns of the writer,
presumably reflecting the desire to buttress these segments of
society against the growing working class mobilisations. This
loss of will was tied primarily to the influence of socialist ideas,
but also more generally to a loss of control configured in the
language of degeneration. In the Dolchstoßlegende
in the politics of the radical right these threats came from within
the military, but even more so from the civilian home front. The
first significant reference to a stab in the back came from Field
Marshall von Hindenburg in November 1918.
Along with socialists, others such as pacifists, Jews, foreign
workers, spies, protesting women, and the working class were depicted
as key sources of betrayal. In broad terms, then, and especially in
its radical right instantiations, the Dolchstoßlegende
a broad civilian, feminised ethos responsible for defeat. The myth
was especially potent in mobilising the Freikorps
these multifarious threats, but it had a wider currency. As Benjamin
Ziemann argues, it was ‘not only a political instrument wielded by
interested parties [those around the German High Command in
particular], but also and above all a means through which problems of
social order could be rendered visible, and, more generally, made
intellectually and emotionally understandable’.

true heroes of the myth were thus the undefeated soldiers who, in
Ludendorff’s terms, resisted the epithets of ‘strike-breaker’
and maintained their military posture. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck became
a key figure in this respect. He had been serving in German East
Africa upon the outbreak of war in 1914 and, with his mixed force of
German and East African soldiers, held out against all odds until 25
November 1918, his surrender coming only when he learned, weeks after
the fact, of the end of the war in Europe. He thus became a key
figure in the mythology of the undefeated army, with his exploits
also helping to cement the importance of colonialism in the narrative
of Weimar nationalism, a theme to which I will return in later
chapters. Lettow-Vorbeck’s book Hela
published in 1920, became a best-seller. His account of the War and
his homecoming drew a direct link between the unity of August 1914
and the military as the body of the nation. Upon returning, he
recounts, ‘[h]undreds of thousands cheered us on, cheered in pure
joy despite the severe wounds that remained fresh. Pride emanated
from them that we had held the flag high until the end, and that we
had brought back unbesmirched a part of German soldierhood’.
Lettow-Vorbeck and numerous other former colonial soldiers would go
on to play key roles in the Freikorps,
their military experience with colonial counter-insurgency brought
into action against the left in Germany.

idea of the undefeated army was especially prevalent in the military
hierarchy and on the right, but even the new president, the SPD’s
Friedrich Ebert, parroted the claim that the army ‘is returning
home undefeated’. Boris Barth
suggests that Ebert deployed the phrase tactically (it had been
written by a military officer) without a full appreciation of its
implications. Barth stresses that it was not only the military or
political hierarchy that put forward the view of the undefeated army,
but that it was widespread, expressed even by civilians welcoming
soldiers back from the front
The SPD’s frequent endorsement of these nationalist tropes was
indicative of their position in the post-War balance of forces. In
seeking to sustain a reformist project against the revolutionary
left, the SPD hierarchy continued the conciliatory politics of the
War, acting in concert with the right against the revolutionary left.
The right in turn was also happy to conclude these tactical
alliances, but both the older established elites and the new radical
right never lost their fundamentally anti-socialist politics. The
signing of the Treaty of Versailles by the SPD-led government
strengthened this violent antipathy on their part, and made the
absolute article of faith. The signing was widely condemned as a
capitulation that imposed a variety of punitive clauses limiting
German sovereignty and burdening the country with massive reparations

though the SPD-led government had little choice but to sign the
Treaty, they were portrayed as responsible for this further stab in
the back, feeding the strategy of Ludendorff, the German high
command, and various conservative forces to shift blame onto the left
as a way of preparing the ground for counterrevolutionary action. The
left, including the SPD, had enabled what the German National Party
representative Albrecht Philipp called the ‘thousands of small
“stabs in the back” that enabled the victory of Germany’s
enemies. As Barth argues, it was in fact the military’s impossible
demands for the home front to sustain production at levels that could
match the output of the Allies that generated the hunger, protest,
and delegitimisation of the state discussed earlier, and that then
fed into the Dolchstoßlegende.
contradictions emerged especially in the second half of the War and
the increasingly industrial character taken on by the War after the
battle of the Somme.

militarised response of the radical right can be read in this context
as an attempt to embody a national will untrammelled by such material
concerns. As Klaus Theweleit has famously argued, radical right
writers performed a violently misogynist politics of militarised
control, with armoured bodies constituted through the violent
repulsion of all feminine flows. The Dolchstoßlegende
the distillation of this orientation, with the feminised home front
displacing any military or economic sources of defeat. During the
War, as we have seen, but also after, this dynamic configured the
home front as an existential threat to the national body. Defence of
borders against both external and internal enemies was thus
constitutive of radical right politics. The loss of territories after
the War was crucial in this respect, often depicted as an
‘amputation’ of limbs from the Volkskörper.

radical right turn away from more traditional forms of conservatism
associated with patriarchal values suggests a new, more modern
orientation. Indeed, much of the academic debate over the radical
right has turned on this question of their ‘modern’ nature. One
of the more influential accounts of the radical right comes from
Jeffrey Herf, who uses the term ‘reactionary modernism’ to
describe their orientation. He argues that the radical right was an
expression of ‘a cultural paradox of German modernity, namely, the
embrace of modern technology by German thinkers who rejected
Enlightenment reason’. He develops this argument on the basis of
the Sonderweg
suggesting that the radical right was able to gain influence because
of the relative weakness of liberalism and its attendant institutions
compared to Germany’s level of industrial development. As I argued
in the introduction, however, this approach to German history has its
limits, in Herf’s case seeing him hold onto a notion of
conservatism as ‘anti-modern’. As Thomas Rohkramer argues, the
‘reactionary modernist’ paradox is only a paradox if one accepts
the dubious contention that conservatives are naturally suspicious of
technology and

equation of technology and Enlightenment rationality in Herf’s
argument ends up buttressing a liberal faith in the progressive
nature of the latter. Herf constructs his argument through a rather
caricatured reading of Adorno and Horkheimer’s thesis in the
of Enlightenment
arguing that their analysis ‘was imprisoned in the limits of
Marxist theory’ and that they ‘generalized Germany’s miseries
into dilemmas of modernity per se. Consequently they blamed the
Enlightenment for what was really a result of its [Germany’s]
weakness’. The problem with Germany, he contends, was that there
was ‘not enough’ liberalism, reason, or Enlightenment, as if
these are elements that can be measured rather than complex social
processes to be analysed. Ironically, Herf also misses the extent to
which Dialectic
of Enlightenment
a break from dominant Marxist interpretations of fascism and the
development of capitalism, with that work advancing a theory of the
administered society and the primacy of politics over economics that,
depending on one’s perspective, renovated or abandoned a Marxist
analysis. Herf misses Adorno and Horkheimer’s key argument, namely
that the unfolding of Enlightenment rationality was dialectically
constituted through a repression of myth, to which it then reverts.
Trying to extract a ‘true’ rationality misses precisely the
dialectical character of Enlightenment, and capitalism, itself.
Herf’s argument therefore performs precisely the false separation
of reason from myth that Horkheimer and Adorno argue marks the march
of Enlightenment reason.

study of Oswald Spengler, one of the key figures on the Weimar
radical right, highlights some of the interpretive riches missed by
Herf. Adorno goes so far as to argue that ‘Spengler is one of the
theoreticians of extreme reaction whose critique of liberalism proved
itself superior in many respects to the progressive one’. In a
comment that could be directed at Herf, Adorno contends that:

escape the charmed circle of Spengler’s morphology it is not enough
to defame barbarism and rely on the health of culture. Spengler could
laugh in the face of such blissful confidence. Rather, it is the
barbaric element in culture itself which must be recognized. The only
considerations that have a chance of surviving Spengler’s verdict
are those which challenge the idea of culture as well as the reality
of barbarism.

dynamism of Spengler’s work is ultimately sterile, mirroring
relations of domination and reverting ‘unobtrusively into a
justification of the merely existent’.

of the approaches to the radical right tend to miss the extent to
which, as a movement, it was responding to the contradictions of
capitalist modernity in ways that, as Adorno suggests of Spengler,
were more profound than any
liberal progressivism. The term ‘reactionary modernism’ implies
some of these interpretive problems with its attempt to salvage
‘modernism’ for the Enlightenment project. Similarly, the term
‘conservative revolutionary’, used already in Hugo von
Hofmannsthal’s 1927 claim that what was coming in Germany was ‘no
less than a Conservative Revolution, and will be of a magnitude
previously unseen in European history’, shares a tendency to see
radical right ideology as contradictory rather than rooting those
contradictions in capitalist modernity itself. Indeed, for those on
the right it was precisely that overcoming of these contradictions
that they set as their goal. This did often involve a hybrid of older
and newer conservatisms that, as one writer put it, evoking a common
right-wing appropriation of the term socialism, was both ‘Völkisch
socialistic’. For Alma de l’Aigles, the conservative revolution
sought ‘to eliminate the disharmony between the eternal Idea and
its temporal distinction’.

on the right dispensed with even these gestures to an older
conservatism. For Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, the author of the
1922 tract The
Third Reich
traditional conservatism had little to say in the modern world. Thus,
as I argue elsewhere, those on the right configured their political
programmes as a kind of radical right socialism or communism,
mobilising the language of the left in the service of a radical
national politics. This mobilisation of socialist ideas had its roots
in the War when writers from a variety of political perspectives
proposed that the Planwirtschaft,
the planned economy of the War, provided a specifically German form
of socialism against the materialism of both English capitalism and
Marxist socialism. The industrialised battlefront rather than the
pastoral countryside was the model for this new politics; the
its bodily form.

Adorno suggested, one of the most articulate proponents of this view
was Oswald Spengler, whose Decline
of the West
published in two volumes between 1918 and 1922. While Spengler
conceived of his work in part as a manual for statecraft speaking to
the policy-making elite, the work gained a huge readership in Germany
and abroad, channelling the anxieties and desires of the period
through a powerful conceptualisation of world history. Spengler’s
overriding thesis was relatively simple: all world-historical
Cultures, each of which is a totality governed by a single organising
principle, go through a series of stages, from birth through
adolescence and on to death. There are a limited number of these
Cultures (he names the Classical [Ancient Greek], Chinese, Indian,
Magian [Jewish and Muslim], occasionally the Aztec, and finally the
West), and each of these has followed the same law-like trajectory
mirroring the human life cycle. In the initial stages each Culture
emerges and develops organically through its unique organising
principle (in the West, for example, this was what he calls the
Faustian idea of infinite space), culminating in a florescence of
cultural production. It then begins to harden, and a decline sets in.

and degeneration are thus inherent in the logic of Cultures. In the
final stage (which Spengler says is the stage in which Europe finds
itself) Culture hardens and becomes Civilisation. He finds this
descent into Civilisation in all great Cultures: ‘[t]he
Civilization is the inevitable destiny
the Culture’. Civilisation is the age of world-cities, science and
abstract thought, imperialism, and technology. It is the final stage,
the end and fulfillment of the history of a Culture. In one sense,
then, Spengler is expressing the common distinction often made
between a Germanic Culture (Kultur)
and a mechanistic and materialistic Civilisation (Zivilisation)
associated with England and France. Indeed, much of the right-wing
thought of the 1920s was founded on the contrasting conceptions of
the national border as a ‘blood- and body-less, primarily
mathematical abstraction’ or as a ‘three-dimensional bodily
border of flesh and blood [dreidimensionaler,
durchbluteter Grenzkörper
to use Karl Haushofer’s pungent phrasing. Spengler gives this a
twist, arguing that the dichotomy of Culture and Civilisation is
internal to cultural development, removing it somewhat from its
national(ist) context. The implication of his argument is that the
decline of the West is unavoidable, and that neither a nostalgic
desire for an organic past nor a belief in modern regeneration are
tenable positions. His anti-nostalgia was shared with others on the
radical right, although most continued to dream of a national
regeneration. In
Rettung des Abendlandes
a radical nationalist fantasy from 1921, for example, Ernst Otto
Montanus argued against Spengler’s pessimism, claiming that Decline
of the West
to lead the Volk
resignation, and that it contradicted the spirit of the Frontkämpfer,
the front soldiers. As Peter Fisher argues, ‘Frontkämpfer
like Montanus (and Hitler) viewed the highbrow Spengler with
antibourgeois, anti-intellectual contempt’, despite their respect
for his authoritarian and martial ideals. Fisher also quotes Hitler’s
claim that ‘I am no follower of Spengler’s. I do not believe in
the decline of the West’.

rejected the claim that his work entailed a fatalistic or pessimistic
orientation, arguing in 1921 in response to critics of the first
volume that ‘[m]y aim was to present an image of the world to be
lived with, rather than to devise a system for professional
philosophers to brood over’. This rejection of the contemplative
mode is where Spengler’s vision most clearly links up with others
on the radical right. For Spengler, a technologised conception of an
activist will
through his work, a celebration of a metallic and totally integrated
order. Technology, he argues, is at the heart of the greatness of the
Faustian West, with the engineer having pride of place. Spengler
concludes Decline
of the West
a brief discussion of the conflict between the entrepreneur or manager
and the factory worker, a theme familiar to viewers of Fritz Lang’s
later film Metropolis.
As in the film, Spengler argues that the entrepreneur and the factory
worker represent the division between intellectual and manual labour
– the head and the hand in Metropolis.
A third term is needed to bind the two, but where the film offers the
humanist solution of the heart as the mediator, Spengler gives the
radical right answer: the engineer is ‘the priest of the machine .
. . the machine’s master and destiny’.

engineer thus embodies a resolution of the contradictions of
capitalist modernity – it is key here to remember that Spengler was
writing in the context of the post-War revolutionary struggles
between workers (hands) and bosses (mind) – but there is another
opposing principle that embodies the final stage of Civilisation:
money. It represents the final subsumption of the material, of the
earth, into the intangibility of finance, a final ‘conflict between
and blood’.This familiar theme of the degenerative power of liquid
money and the ephemerality of finance to destroy the soul of a
people, a perspective that often underlay anti-Semitic discourses, is
raised to an inexorable historical law. The engineer and, more
broadly, militarised technology, are bound up with blood, a kind of
modernist atavism damming the flows of money. Here we are back at the
point raised in the introduction. Marx’s characterisation of
capitalism as a system in which ‘all that is solid melts into air’
underlies Spengler’s critique of Civilisation, but this
characteristic is abstracted from social relations and is reified as
money. As we shall see in the next chapter, Spengler was not alone in
performing this sleight of hand; the sociology of Georg Simmel is
another famous example, albeit from a very different political
position. For Spengler and the radical right, though, this approach
grounded a dichotomous metaphysics of violent will.

belief in will that was evident in Spengler’s work was analogous to
that which fed the legend of the ‘stab-in-the-back’. Paul von
Hindenburg, the head of the army during the War and the future
president of the Republic, testified to the Constituent Assembly in
November 1919 that will
what set the German military apart from the numerically and
materially superior enemy. ‘At the time we still hoped that the
to victory
dominate everything else’, but that hope was dashed by
revolutionary soldiers and the weakness of the home front. The
significance of the engineer for Spengler is not simply that he can
produce more goods or, in the case of war, more weapons; if that were
the case, as Hindenburg argued, the German army was lost. Rather, the
engineer embodied a will that fulfilled the promise of a machine age.

dichotomy that emerges in Spengler’s work maps onto that of the
home and fighting front: ‘[w]ar
is the creator, hunger the destroyer, of all great things
In war life is elevated by death, often to that point of irresistible
force whose mere existence guarantees victory, but in the economic
life hunger awakens the ugly, vulgar, and wholly unmetaphysical sort
of fearfulness for one’s life under which the higher form-world of
a Culture miserably collapses and the naked struggle for existence of
the human beasts begins’. The struggle against hunger that
characterised the home front during the War is reduced here to a
vulgar bestiality threatening the greatness of war. In Decline
of the West
is raised to a transhistorical phenomenon, the gendered dynamic of
the two fronts subtending all cultural development and degeneration.
This struggle is thus an existential moment in which, as with the
a Culture or a nation faces extinction. Given this existential
threat, then, it is not surprising that for Spengler as for others on
the radical right, the response was a powerful and violent
reiteration of the contours of the individual and social body, the
‘form-world’, against the degenerating impacts of the merely

mentioned earlier, one significant corollary of the reconfiguration
of the notion of borders by the radical right was that their politics
was not inscribed solely in a national or nationalist frame. As
Marcus Bullock argues in a discussion of Ernst Junger, ‘[t]he
fronts that traversed the continent of Europe and separated nations
and alliances only marked lines of division according to the politics
of the state. According to the peculiar erotics of experience enacted
in this ancient rite of blood, the lines the opposing forces drew up
in their trenches, barbed wire entanglements, and gun emplacements,
were more like the seams that knit up the tattered patchwork of
nations and restored the singular spirit of youth and courage’.
This is a kind of radical right internationalism, ironically
emerging out of a War that so profoundly split the left over the
question of proletarian internationalism. Indeed, Ari Sammartino
argues that many of the Freikorps
in the Baltics felt a profound alienation from a Germany that, to
them, had descended into socialist chaos and had rejected them;
paramilitary fighting and ultimately settlement in the east would
provide the context for a reterritorialising of an essential
Germanness. The radical right was picking up here on a broader set of
anxieties around the threat of revolution to national borders that
was expressed even by the SPD. Thus, a Party leaflet from early 1919
warned of the threat of the revolutionary ‘terroristic minority’
who would enable ‘armies of foreign peoples to breach the eastern
borders’. The relationship between internal and external borders
was clear in their call: ‘[g]et in touch with volunteer
associations [Freiwilligenverbänden,
in this case including Freikorps
which the government has assembled to secure the border and maintain
law and order within the country’.

ambivalence of the radical right towards the nation thus expressed
itself in a kind of nationalist internationalism. Spengler and Junger
both conceived of Germany within a broader European culture, with the
latter frequently expressing his comradeship with the worthy enemies
he faced, in particular the English. Ernst von Salomon, another key
radical right author, contended that in the War the two sides did not
represent opposing ideals, but rather that the War itself provided a
shared (Western) experience. The threat of degeneration was thus also
shared, and came from the amorphous proliferation of threats to the
represented by the home front. This cultural nation was also then
portable, enacted in the east as well as on colonial terrain.
Lettow-Vorbeck, for example, exhorted youth to learn from his defence
of German colonies in East Africa: ‘[j]ust as the revitalisation of
energy, blood flowing through the veins, and the breathing of fresh
air are necessary for the individual if the body and spirit are to be
healthy, this is also required for our sick Volkskörper.
Labour must again flow in and out and, through our great trading
cities, must again breathe the sea air’. Here we have a colonial
social hygiene in which the biologised nation is coterminous with the
global circulation of goods and bodies.

primary locus of national regeneration for the radical right,
however, was found in the experience of the fighting front during the
War, and it is here that we can see most clearly the links to the
gendered dynamics of war. Ernst Junger’s work was undoubtedly the
most prominent and influential in this regard. Junger had fought at
the front as a storm trooper, had been decorated, and went on to
become one of the most significant writers of the radical right in
the Weimar period. He regained prominence after the Second World War,
writing and enjoying increasing recognition up to his death in 1998
at the age of 103. His work, in particular his war memoir Storm
of Steel
first published in 1920 and subsequently rewritten on several
occasions, provided the most influential radical right meditation on
the significance of war; despite the differences Junger had with the
Nazis, Goebbels called it a ‘war gospel, cruelly great’. Many of
the themes evident in Spengler’s work returned with Junger, but he
grounded them more concretely in the life of the front. By the late
1920s and early 1930s he developed this front experience into a
totalising social critique and a model of social order embodied in
the figure of ‘the Worker’. A new man emerged out of Junger’s
battlefields, the ruins of the front giving birth to a machinic
figure who Junger argued embodied a regenerated social order; by the
time he wrote The
the early 1930s, he conceived of this order on a planetary scale.

purging of a feminised degeneracy was at the heart of Junger’s
work. His novels, essays and other writings provide a sustained
critique of Weimar society and politics from the perspective of war
and the experience of the front. His disgust with the post-War order,
and with a corrupt materialist order more generally, was almost
total, and was consistently articulated through a dread of
degeneration and disease. ‘Democratic sentiments?’ he asked
rhetorically in Copse
another autobiographical novel set at the front. ‘I hate democracy
as I do the plague’. For Junger, the future could only be found in
the decidedly non-democratic iron order of the battlefield and it
could only be brought into being through an implacable war against
any threatening or degenerative heterogeneity. War was thus both
model for the utopian social order, and means for its attainment.

texts operated in this dual fashion as well, acting as a sort of
agitprop literature for the right. The texts themselves were
constructed as models for the desired social order, violently
regimented narratives, often in the form of diaries, which were
carefully written to exclude what he saw as effete literary
flourishes. Spengler offers a similar critique of literary
production, arguing that the journalism of the stage of Civilisation
‘substitutes for the old thoughtfulness an intellectual
speech and writing, which fills and dominates the halls and the
market-places of the megalopolis’. Again here we see the use of the
figure of the prostitute in condemning modern civilisation, linked in
turn to the degenerative influence of the city and the market. The
true writer is thus akin to the soldier who, at the fighting front,
avoids these civilian entanglements; this argument radicalises that
of the 93 intellectuals and others who associated war with German
Culture earlier in the War.

depiction of the front as the alternative to the plague of democracy
was outlined more explicitly in many of his contributions to the
right-wing press in the mid-1920s. His 1925 essay ‘The Front
Soldier and Internal Politics’, for instance, is built around the
reconfigured notions of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ that I have
argued marked the politics of the radical right. Rather than national
borders, the key dichotomy here is between the ethos of the front and
that of democracy; the soldier offers the possibility for the
transcendence of these divisions through the purging of degeneracy.
Increasingly, though, Junger also looked to the figure of the Worker
to describe this new man, explicitly laying claim to the terrain of
the left. The soldier of the First World War was an industrial
a new type of embodied subject commensurate to new forms of war.
These soldiers

been reared in the fiery centres of modern industry and from
childhood on know the ways and power of our era. They are more deeply
embedded in the contemporary world, whose secrets and marvels shine
through cold exteriors. They sense the elemental spirit stirring in
the explosive power of steel and the atom, in the crackling of radio
waves. This also represents a return to the more fundamental; these
men have their aeroplanes under control as an [Aboriginal] Australian
his boomerang.

then, while this soldier is wholly modern, he also taps into an
eternal soldierly substratum; the primitivist invocation of the
Australian Aboriginal cements this trans-historical moment.

by the later 1920s Junger stressed the roots of the soldier in the
disciplined iron order of the factory. Interestingly,
the German military establishment prior to the War had preferred
rural and small-town recruits, believing that industrial environments
produced enervated men with urban vices. With the onset of war this
shifted, with urbanites and workers seen as the ideal candidates for
the new, industrial form of warfare. Junger’s argument is thus
tightly linked with the military thinking of the period.
 The figures of the soldier and worker dominate the anti-political
politics that he developed most systematically in 1932 in The
embodying the social and political order that would transcend liberal
parliamentarism. The Worker represents what he calls a new ‘Gestalt’
expressed through the social totality, the ‘state of total
mobilization’. Junger’s
critique of liberalism in these works has points of connection with
those developed by the left, but for Junger the idea of totality
embodies not a revolutionary or emancipatory politics, but the
principles of violence, domination, and the hierarchy of the front
writ large. This
is a radical right version of the Volkskörper,
an embodied
(Junger frequently uses the term Verkörpert
in which the individual body of the worker or soldier merges into an
integrated social totality that transcends and transforms its
individual moments. The significance of the body is most evident at
the moment of death, especially the violent death of the battlefield
where bodily life reaches its apogee. Junger’s worker-body and
soldier-body are not material bodies, however, but represent a
transcendent moment: ‘not the slightest connection exists between
the body at the second of its death and the corpse that then
appears’. Death is the moment of fulfilment of the social order,
the point at which the bourgeois dichotomy between individual and
society is transcended and the new man discovers that it is ‘in
blood sacrifice that his most significant expression is won’. In
of Steel
describes being shot late in the War and thinking he is about to die:
‘[s]trangely, that moment is one of very few in my life of which I
am able to say they were utterly happy. I understood, as in a flash
of lighting, the true inner purpose and form of my life’.

worker state thus enables the formation of what Junger calls in
different places a new gender and a new race as the embodied forms of
the new social and political order, although he insists that this
concept of race ‘has nothing to do with the biological concept of
race’. The new state is, however, violently anti-bourgeois and
anti-liberal. Junger argues that the rise of the Worker will involve
the ‘transformation [Ablösung]
of the liberal, formal democracy [Gesellschaftsdemokratie]
through work or state democracy’. These bodily and social
transformations are highly mediated by technology, the new race
taking the form of a kind of hybrid or cyborg body that has as much
to do with engineering as biology. Junger’s work is thus clearly
about more than a ‘reactionary modernism’ that brings technology
together with anti-rational thinking; indeed, it embodies a
terrifying integrative rationality in the face of which, as Adorno
suggested of Spengler’s work, a liberal critique is wholly
inadequate. It is a particularly radical version of what Cornelius
Castoriadis has characterised as ‘the fantasy of total control, of
our will or desire for mastering all objects and all circumstances’
that is at the heart of Western technological rationality….this
phenomenon is driven especially by military practice, in particular
through the growing importance of information in warfare. This
‘totalitarian’ impulse at the heart of militarised capitalism
parallels the arguments presented here in relation to the role of
information and communication in war.

investments in the cyborg body are most evident in his interest in
photography. In The
identifies photography with broader social changes characteristic of
modern life, arguing that the medium had given rise to a new
aesthetics bound up with the abolition and transcending of older
bourgeois practices. The first photographic portraits had already
begun to ‘blur the borders between art and technology’, a shift
that changed ‘what one understands
a “good face” to be’. This ‘good face’ was precisely that
which he
sought to reflect in a series of photo-books for which he served as
editor or contributor in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These books
developed a radical right aesthetics, tracing new forms of modern
subjectivity and the front experience in which they found their ideal
home. While Junger never gave up writing novels, photography gave him
a new and in many ways more accessible medium for his agitprop
literature, a mechanical means through which the modern machinic body
could be reproduced.

Junger, the photographs in these lavish works were more than just
illustrations; photography itself was an integral part of the
military-technological apparatus that enabled a new consciousness. In
‘War and Photography’ (‘Krieg und Lichtbild’), his
introductory essay to the photo collection The
Face of the World War
Junger argued that the mass of information thrown up by technological
war requires precise forms of documentation to capture the meaning of
the militarised state. Here photography has a privileged place. Along
with artillery and guns, he says, countless lenses were trained on
the battlefield, serving as ‘instruments of a technological
consciousness’ that preserved the image of this devastated yet
generative landscape. As with his writing, Junger conceived of this
archive of images not simply as a passive recording of war, but
rather as a tool that could enable those who did not experience the
front to do so through a medium adequate to its object. The
photographic archive crystallised the new constellation of
technology, subjectivity, the body, politics, and aesthetic form.

technology itself was not the driving force of these social changes,
however. Looking specifically at the significance of the tank in
another essay in the collection The
Face of the World War
Junger argues that ‘[i]t is a means of expression [Ausdrucksmittel]
of a new military epoch, just as the machine itself represents not
the beginning, but rather the expression, of a new epoch of the
spirit’. Technology is thus but the outward form of a spiritual
brewing beneath the surface.

[the First World War’s] fragmentary character is based on the
technology being able to destroy the traditional forms of war. From
within itself, however, it could only intimate – without being able
to realise – a new image of war. In this process, the world war
mirrors our life – the spirit behind the technology was able to
destroy old attachments while it has not yet left the experimental
stage with respect to building a new order constituted by its own

battlefield was thus the leading edge of transformations that were
all areas of human life. The modern moment was the ‘moment of
danger’, as Ferdinand Bucholtz’s 1931 photobook was entitled. The
images in
Bucholtz’s book trace these moments of danger, ranging from natural
disasters to industrial accidents and car crashes. More precisely, as
we saw earlier with the Australian Aboriginal, the exponential
increase in danger made possible by the destructive potential of new
industrial processes and technologies was the modern expression of a
fundamental and primal human nature. The book links this moment of
danger directly to political struggles waged by the radical right. A
significant portion of the book celebrates counter-revolutionary
violence with writings and photographs that include: an excerpt from
Ernst von Salomon’s memoir The
the assassination of Walter Rathenau; photographs of the Freikorps;
and depictions of colonial violence. In the introductory essay to the
book, ‘On Danger’, Junger argued that from the bourgeois
perspective danger appears as the opposite of reason, fuelling a
desire for security. Junger, though, rejects the slogan of ‘Peace
and Order’ (Ruhe
und Ordnung
– which was also the counter-revolutionary slogan endorsed by the
SPD in the immediate post-War years – celebrating instead the
Gestalt of the warrior, the artist, and the criminal who tap directly
into what he calls the Elemental, the universal substratum underlying
the transient moment.

work is arguably both a celebration of the alienated body of
capitalist modernity, and a performance of a violent masculinity
through which that alienation can be contained. Again here the
stab-in-the-back legend, in which a series of degenerative forces
emanating from the home front undermine bodily unity, is raised to a
fundamental principle. Thus, he writes, where pacifists do their work
‘there civilization emits the first scent of decay’. Civilian
more broadly produced profound feelings of disgust in Junger and in
others on the radical right. Franz Sontag’s
1931 Never
Again War!?
a novel whose title subverts a key pacifist slogan, describes the
decommissioning of an officer: ‘[s]o he had finally become a
civilian – what a repulsive thought! … internally torn,
only half a man’. The body and subjectivity of the officer
literally embody the gendered dichotomy of the two fronts, a split
that radical right cultural production and political action sought
violently and compulsively to weld together through the extermination
of the feminine.

many radical right texts this fundamental misogyny was expressed
through a graphic violence against women, but in Junger’s case it
manifested as a powerful repression of any
of women. His accounts of leaves from the front, for example, are
terse and include little of family or other civilian/feminine
engagements. One brief mention is telling, however. At the end of
of Steel
after Junger is wounded, he is rushed to a dressing-station. In the
later 1961 rewriting of the novel he merely states that ‘[t]hen I
was in the hands
of the sisters’, but in the 1924 version we get a slightly longer
account. ‘Though I am no misogynist’, he claims, ‘I was always
irritated by the presence of women every time that the fate of battle
threw me into the bed of a hospital ward. One sank, after the manly
and purposeful activities of the War, into a vague atmosphere of
warmth’. These various forces against which Junger seeks to do
battle are thus characterised as formless womanly dispersion.

is not surprising that nurses bear the brunt of his animosity. They
represented the only large-scale female presence at the front and, as
Klaus Theweleit details, they emerged as perhaps the most fraught and
powerful symbol of femininity in the writings of the radical right.
The position of the nurse highlights not only the complexities of the
gender politics of the radical right, but also their class politics
and their relations to older forms of conservatism. Indeed, nursing
was deeply rooted in the conservative women’s movement, offering an
opportunity for work to unmarried bourgeois and aristocratic women
that had been gained only after considerable struggle. Embodying
feminine values of care and service, as Lora Wildenthal argues in her
study of colonial
women, ‘[n]ursing offered a conservative resolution to conflicts
raised by women’s efforts at participation’. Based in modern
medical practices, nursing offered a challenging outlet for
upper-class women that, because of the non-waged, volunteer nature of
the work and the fact that it took place under male medical
supervision, simultaneously reaffirmed conservative gender roles and
values. The promotion of a ‘non-political’ caring work as women’s
ideal contribution reflected the broader opposition of many
conservative women’s groups to suffrage and other concerns of the
women’s movement. In important ways, then, nursing involved a
conservative response to changing gender relations and the rise of
liberal, radical, and socialist feminisms.

the pre-War period nursing developed especially in relation to German
imperial projects. Through influential Patriotic Women’s Leagues
nurses played an important role in sustaining military and settler
activity during the German colonial period, even though they were
often treated with suspicion by male settlers and colonial officials.
During the War, and in conjunction with the broader integration of
the BdF and the women’s movement in the war effort, opportunities
for nurses expanded significantly. Bourgeois and conservative women’s
organisations worked with the Red Cross to mobilise and organise
around 92,000 nurses for service in the War. The Patriotic Women’s
Leagues argued in a call on 2 August 1914 that men had stepped up to
defend crown and fatherland, and that ‘[t]he Fatherland expects the
same devotion and the same willingness to sacrifice from Germany’s
women and girls as from its sons … God grant our flag victory,
and bless our work in the service of the Red Cross!’ The Leagues
also played a key public role in mobilising support for war through
public performances of medical interventions and through large-scale
poster campaigns that became central to the propaganda efforts of the
German state. This propagandistic function in particular began to
fail over the course of the War, however, mirroring the broader
delegitimisation of the state and older elites.

their staunch nationalism and conservatism, nurses remained
ambivalent figures. They did not overtly challenge patriarchal
structures, but their participation at the front nevertheless
challenged gendered expectations. For anti-feminist critics this went
too far. Not surprisingly, opposition was frequently expressed by
sexualising women’s involvement at the front, with nurses accused
in many cases of simply wanting to find husbands or lovers. More
sensationally, the Berliner
a story about prostitutes disguised as nurses who were arrested by
police, highlighting the unstable boundaries of the category
‘prostitute’ and its importance in formal and informal modes of
regulation of all of women’s public roles. Resistance to women’s
service at the front was strengthened by the entry of other women,
often lower-middle class in this case, into auxiliary service in
areas behind the lines. These new workers provided much fodder for
public discussion of morality; again their public role was frequently
configured in terms of the transgression of sexual norms and limits,
and at the extreme elided with prostitution.

thus simultaneously troubled and sustained dominant gendered
practices. For the misogynist and anti-feminist radical right, any
feminine intrusion into male social and bodily space, especially
militarised space, represented a threat. This is evident in Junger’s
response to the hospital ward mentioned above. Death, as we saw,
offers the possibility of transcendence, but bodily wounding and his
treatment by women unmans him. As Jean Quataert argues, nurses thus
represent an older form of conservatism opposed by the radical right:
‘women’s sacrifices and the values of Christian neighborliness –
once integral to official nationalist messages – were alien to the
discourses of the new political right’. The radical right’s
response was a violent rhetorical onslaught
against unruly women that could easily turn into actual violence.
This was especially the case with the figure of the ‘red nurse’,
the communist woman who, as Theweleit argues, figured as a prominent
threat in the fantasies of the radical right, and who was visited
with sexualised violence in many of their accounts. The opposing
image of the ‘white nurse’, though, also played a role in
sustaining misogynist violence. They were to be protected by radical
right fighters, but again it was the threat of rape, this time
purportedly by communists, that underlay their place in the radical
right imaginary. In Theweleit’s view, then, while white nurses were
in need of protection, the obsession with sexual violence in these
images simultaneously ‘may then function as a means of maintaining
the threat of rape as an ever-present possibility’ for all women.

violently misogynist fear and loathing thus sought the elimination of
any feminine dispersion and formlessness, an orientation that can be
traced to a conception of masculine identity as struggle whose most
notable exponent was the Viennese writer Otto Weininger. His 1903
work Sex
and Character
extremely influential, condensing in virulent terms the broader
misogynist, homophobic, and racist (especially anti-Semitic)
perspectives characteristic of early twentieth-century ideas of
degeneration. The book is a massive interdisciplinary work that seeks
to ground human life in its social, cultural and biological bases in
fundamental gendered and racialised dichotomies. Men and women, he
argues, exist on a continuum between two ideal types, a gender
continuum that finds its racial parallel between the poles of Aryan
and Jew. Everyone falls between the poles, embodying elements of both
genders and races. Sexuality is central to his argument, with
‘excessive’ femininity in men denoting homosexuality, and
masculinity in women, lesbianism. Weininger nevertheless
simultaneously speaks of ‘women’ or ‘Jews’; while we are all
compound beings, women and Jews are tied to their biological nature,
incapable of attaining full personhood and the ideal of genius.

work thus expresses a profoundly unstable conception of masculine and
Aryan subjectivity and embodiment. This true subjectivity is
undermined by femininity. Femininity is in fact not subjectivity at
all: ‘[w]oman wants man sexually, because it is only through his
sexuality that she can gain an existence’. The dynamic here
reflects a particular orientation to conceptions of degeneration
outlined in the introduction, femininity configured as a threat of
negation and formlessness, that was also evident in the logic of the
two fronts and the responses of the radical right. The genius of the
masculine and Aryan is thus paradoxical; it comes out of the
awareness of the feminine and Jewish element within. However, this
awareness takes the form of struggle. Given that women’s existence
is only enabled by men’s sexuality, men need to reject sexual
intercourse entirely: ‘what is needed is neither
the affirmation nor the denial
femininity, but its rejection
its conquest’.
That the fulfilment of this struggle would lead to the end of
humanity is of no consequence; this is the struggle that must be

work was an important contribution to the anti-feminism that, as I
touched on earlier, gained significant momentum around the turn of
the century. The logic expressed in Weininger’s argument resonated
strongly with that of the radical right. As Theweleit argues,
Freudian notions of repression are inadequate to an understanding of
radical right subject formation. The radical right subject seeks not
repression, but violent struggle and expulsion, the externalisation
and obliteration of any traces of femininity. It is this struggle
that grounds the radical right male subject. The rejection of
femininity was reflected as well in popular dreams of a male
community (Männerbund)
that had a broad reach. Even more broadly, it is important to
remember, these desires were by no means the exclusive province of
the radical right, with Weininger in particular proving popular with
a wide range of people. As Raymond Williams argues, something like
this tendency existed in leftist modernist and avant-garde critiques
of bourgeois society and morality as well: ‘there is a position
within the apparent critique of the bourgeois family which is
actually a critique and rejection of all social forms of human
reproduction’, a rejection that he argues takes the form of an
extreme misogyny.

the radical right, this violent misogyny was bound up with the
counterrevolutionary violence exemplified by the Freikorps;
both were fights to shore up unstable and porous borders, with the
individual body mapping seamlessly onto the social body. Thus, the
Josef Bischoff argued that the fighting in the Baltics was a ‘last
battlefront’ against Bolshevism that brought together ‘those like
myself who think of an overcoming of the revolution’. This was not
a nostalgic desire that sought to preserve a pre-existing nation,
however, but a struggle for a new order. As Joan Campbell argues, the
War gave a strong boost to ideas of efficiency, rationalisation, and
scientific management, generating in the process a strong romantic
backlash. Junger’s state of total mobilisation, however, did not
partake of such romanticism, representing instead a radicalisation of
modernist ideas, a violently masculinised fetishisation and
celebration of a rationalised social order.

radical right thus played a fundamental role not only in the
counterrevolution, but also in generating a cultural logic that,
while it was harnessed in some ways by the SPD, older elites, and
capital, also developed its own autonomous dynamic. It was in this
sense that the radical right described here enabled the subsequent
rise of Nazism. However, their politics remained distinct, a point
made by Ernst Bloch in differentiating those like Spengler from the

Spengler predicted the fascist period, he was still wrong to see it
starting out coldly, mechanically, from the civilized cosmopolitan
cities, in short, from a totally wakeful and late consciousness. But
with our fascists Munich, not Berlin, started it, the ‘most
organic’ capital city, not the mechanized one, and the violence
emanates from the ‘people’ (in the highly undemocratic sense),
from butcher’s dances and the crudest folklore.

distinction is important to keep in mind, with the two approaches
also representing different moments in the gendered class struggles
that shaped the Weimar period. The cold and elite nature of Junger
and others on the radical right emerged not only out of the
experience of war, but also out of the paramilitary
counter-revolutionary warfare of the post-War period. Theirs was not
a mass mobilisation, but the formation of a disciplined and deadly
fighting force that, through an extreme misogyny that also had
women’s struggles during the War as a target, could challenge and
defeat the revolutionary left. They were repelled in many respects by
the folklore and butcher’s dances of the Nazis, including by their
crude biological racism, but in the early Weimar years the Nazis
remained a relatively minor force. In the context of the later Weimar
years, the Nazi mass movement took on much greater prominence, a
development that forms the context for the final chapter. In turning
to the post-War revolutionary movements in the next chapter, though,
it is the radical right of the Freikorps
provides the background for understanding the dynamics of those early
Weimar years.

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

Pictures are, top: from Ernst Junger’s 1931 photobook about the World War; bottom: Ferdinand Bucholtz, Der gefahrliche Augenblick, 1931

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problem in every industrial democracy with a strong and developed
labor movement is how to anchor Parliament in the people. The problem
in every state wherein the state has to deal with nearly all social
and economic affairs is how to enable Parliament to perform its

existed different powers for these purposes.

of all there were the parties. German parties were – apart from one
unimportant exception – based on a totalitarian philosophy (WeltanschaungsParteien).
laid claim to the whole of the individual. They were totalitarian
parties. Literally from the cradle to the grave the party dominated
the life of its members. Organizations for children and youth, for
sport and for singing, for welfare work and for the care of the sick,
for the provision of literature and arts, for jurists, doctors, and
teachers and-last, but not least private armies, were included in the
sphere of party competence. In spite of their enormous social
importance, parties are not mentioned – or only mentioned in a hole
and corner way and negatively – in the Constitution which otherwise
deals with every body and every form of organization. The political
power of the parties was based upon the proportional electoral
system, which on the one hand guaranteed each party mathematical
equalityin Parliament and on the other hand strengthened the
influence of the bureaucracy of the parties. This system of the
domination of the party could not work well, because in the first
place totalitarian parties do not suit parliamentary democracy and in
the second place the radical totalitarian parties did not recognize
the rules of the parliamentary game.

Constitution tried to root parliamentarism and to relieve Parliament
by means of self-government, local as well as industrial. Local
self-government in
is not the same thing as
in England.
For in England “the truth is that there is no antithesis between
central and local government,” though since the appearance of
the Labour Party in politics some conflicts have arisen between
central and local government. In Germany, municipal democracy could
only support and relieve parliamentary democracy if local government
and Parliament pursued the same political ends.

German Constitution added a new form of self-government to be
exercised by trade unions and the organizations of the employers.
Trade unions are recognized in Article 165. They have the task of
cooperating in the development of productive industry on an equal
footing with the employers. The actual wording is “the
organization of both sides and their agreements are recognized.”
By virtue of that constitutional maxim, the unions acquired the right
of having representatives in a large number of state organizations.
The members of labor courts included in all three instances
representatives of the trade unions and, of course, representatives
numbers of the employers’ organizations. Delegates of the trade
unions were appointed to the social insurance boards, to the
arbitration boards, to the National Coal and Potash Councils, to the
National Economic Council, etc. All those representatives were not
elected by the working class, but delegated by the trade unions, so
that it is permissible to speak of a new form of democracy, a
collectivist democracy, by means of which political democracy was to
be rooted in the masses of the people. This collectivist democracy
did not create a corporative state as it did in Italy, because
the whole of political power was concentrated in the Reichstag, and
the trade  unions were legally independent of the influence of the
state. The National Economic Council had no part in legislation.

second part of the Constitution contains the fundamental rights. It
defines the relations between state and subject and deals with the
tasks of the Reich.

was the decisive object of the Reich? A negative one, as we have
already seen: to ward off bolshevism. To define its positive object
is very difficult. Many authors, therefore, hold the German
Constitution to be
a main guiding principle.

groups of constitutional rights have to be distinguished: the rights
of personal freedom-freedom of dwelling and of person, of political
freedom – freedom of speech and of assembly, of capitalist freedom –
freedom of property, contract and trade, and of socialist freedom-all
those rights that guarantee the emancipation of the working class.
The three first groups are well known. They appear in nearly every
modern constitution. Political freedom together with equality of
rights constitute democracy, for political freedom renders the
creation of the will of the state possible. Without political freedom
there is no democracy.

fourth group, however, is a completely new one. Article 159
freedom of association for economic purposes; Article 165
the trade unions and their collective agreements. Article 165
the power to socialize industries. Article 162
the constitutional obligation of the state to provide social
insurance of all kinds, etc. The difference in the legal protection
accorded to the fourth group, as compared with that of the three
other groups, is astonishing. Whereas the first three groups only
restrict state action and do not curtail the acts of private
individuals (except in regard to freedom of speech in Article 118)
fourth group also applies to individual restrictions within the scope
of private law. An
whereby a worker agrees not to belong to any union is
constitutionally null and

Another point: whereas the first three groups may be suspended
by an emergency decree of the president (Article 48),
fourth group is exempt from emergency power. The fourth group was
intended to create a “social democracy” but not a
socialist-democracy, that is to say, a democracy based not only upon
freedom of property but also upon economic freedom of the working
class. A compromise between capitalism and socialism was intended.
The Constitution saw clearly that private property involves power,
power over men and over things, that the worker is separated from the
means of production, that he has only one means of production, his
labor, but that he can only utilize his power in conjunction with
this means of production. Thus, private ownership has an attractive
effect on him. He is forced into a chain of relations outside his
sphere and must enter into contracts
with his employer who is his master. The German Constitution created
a body of rules dealing with direct intervention by the state or by
organized society in the relations between master and servant so as
to make the servant the real equal partner of his master.

L. Neumann,
“The Decay of German Democracy
[1933],” The
Political Quarterly,
in The
Rule of Law Under Siege: Selected Essays of Franz L. Neumann and Otto
by Anke Grosskopf and William E. Scheuerman. Edited by William E.
Scheuerman, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. pp.

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Gustav Wunderwald (German, 1882 – 1945)

Garden cottages (behind factories) (Lauben (hinter Fabriken)), 1923

Oil on canvas,  62 x 72 cm

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“Another World Championship,” Montreal Star, November 7, 1932. Editorial Page. 

“Including yesterday’s general election, Germany has fought forty-six diet, presidential and other elections in the past few years.”

Because the problem in 1932 was that Germany had too much democracy, apparently.

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“Die neue Politik der Sammlung [The new Politics of Collection],” by Olaf Gulbransson, Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, Issue 32, November 6, 1932. p. 375.

“Die in Deutschland hefting grassierende politische Blindheit bewirkt eine starke Zunahme des Strassenbettels.” [In Germany, rampant political blindness has left to a stark increase in street battles.]

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“The elections to the Reichstag put the “presidential” government to a new critical test. It is useful, therefore to remind of its social and political nature. It is precisely through the analysis of such concrete, and at first glance “sudden” political phenomena, as the government of Papen-Schleicher, that the Marxian method, reveals its invaluable advantages.

At one time we defined the “presidential” government as a species of bonapartism. It would be incorrect to see in this definition the chance outcome of a desire to find a familiar name for an unfamiliar phenomena. The decline of capitalist society places again bonapartism together with Fascism and in connection with it on the order of the day. Previously we have characterized the government of Bruning as a bonapartist one. Then, in retrospect we narrowed its definition to a half, or pre-bonapartist one.

What did other Communists and in general left groups say in this connection? To await an attempt at a scientific definition of a new political phenomena from the present leadership of the Comintern would, of course, be naive, not to say foolish. The Stalinists simply place Papen in the Fascist camp. If Wells and Hitler are “twins” then such a trifle as Papen is altogether not worth breaking ones head about. This is the same political literature which Marx called vulgarian and which he taught us to despise. In reality Fascism represents one of the two main camps of civil war. Stretching his arm to power, Hitler first of all demanded the relinquishing of the street to him for 72 hours. Hindenburg refused this. The task of Papen-Schleicher – to avoid civil war by disciplining amicably the national-socialists and chaining the proletariat to police fetters. The very possibility of such a regime is determined by the relative weakness of the proletariat.

The SAP rids itself of the question of the Papen government as well as of other question by means of general phrases. The Brandlerists preserved silence on our definition as long as the matter concerned Bruning, that means the incubation period of bonapartism. When, however, the Marxian characteristic of Bonapartism confirmed itself fully by theory and practice of the presidential government the Brandlerites came out with their criticism: the wise owl of Thalheimer takes flight in the late hours of the night.

The Stuttgart Workers Tribune teaches us that bonapartism raising the military-police apparatus over the bourgeoisie in order to defend its class domination against its own political parties, must be supported by the peasantry and must use methods of social democracy. Papen is not supported by the peasantry and does not introduce a pseudo-radical program. Therefore, our attempt to define the government of Papen as bonapartism “does not fit at all”. This is severe but carries no weight.

How do the Brandlerites themselves define the government of Papen? In the same issue of the Tribune there are very timely announcements of the lecture of Brandler on the subject: Junker-monarchical, Fascist or proletarian dictatorship? In this triad the regime of Papen is presented as a Junker-monarchist dictatorship. This is most worthy of the Forward and of vulgar democrats in general. That titled German bonapartists make some sort of little presents to the Junker is obvious. That these gentlemen are inclined to a monarchistic trend of thoughts is also known. But it is purest liberal nonsense that the essence of the presidential regime is Junker monarchism.

Such terms as liberalism, bonapartism, fascism have the character of generalizations. Historical phenomena never repeat themselves completely. It would not have been difficult to prove that even the government of Napoleon the Third, compared with the regime of Napoleon the First, was not a “bonapartist” one, not only because Napoleon himself was a doubtful Buonapart by blood, but also because his relations to classes, especially to the peasantry and to the lumpen-proletariat was not at all the same as that of Napoleon the First. Moreover, classical bonapartism grew out of the epoch of gigantic war victories, which the second Empire did not know at all. But if we should look for the repitition of all the traits of bonapartism, we will find that bonapartism is a one-time unrepetative occurrence, that means that in general bonapartism does not exist but that there once was a general Bonapart, born in Corsica. The matter stands no different with liberalism and with all other generalized terms of history. When one speaks by analogy of bonapartism, it is necessary to state precisely which of its traits found their fullest expression under present historical conditions.

Present-day German bonapartism has a very complex and so to say combined character. The government of Papen would have been impossible without Fascism. But Fascism is not in power. And the government of Papen is not Fascism. On the other hand, the government of Papen, at any rate in its present form, would have been impossible without Hindenburg, who in spite of the final prostration of Germany in the war, signifies in the memory of wide masses great victories of Germany and symbolizes the army. The second election of Hindenburg had all the characteristics of a “plebiscite”. Many millions of workers, petty bourgeois and peasants (Social-democracy and Centre) voted for Hindenburg. They did not see in him any one political program. They wanted first of all to avoid civil war and raised Hindenburg on their shoulders as a super-arbiter, as an arbitration judge of the nation. But precisely this is the most important function of bonapartism: raising itself over the two struggling camps in order to preserve property and order, it suppresses civil war, or precedes it, or does not allow it to rekindle. Speaking of Papen we cannot forget Hindenburg on whom rests the sanction of the social democracy. The combined character of German bonapartism expressed itself in the fact that the demagogic work of catching the masses for Hindenburg was performed by two big independent parties: the social democracy and national socialism. If they are both astonished at the results of their work this does not change the matter one whit.

The social democracy asserts that Fascism is the product of communism. This is correct in so far as there would have been no necessity at all in Fascism without the sharpening of the class struggle, without the revolutionary proletariat, without the crisis of capitalist society. The flunkeyish theory of Wels-Hilferding-Otto Bauer has no other meaning. Yes, Fascism is a reaction of bourgeois society to the threat of proletarian revolution. But precisely because this threat is not an imminent one today, that the ruling classes make an attempt to get along without a civil war by the medium of a bonapartist dictatorship.

Objecting to our characterization of the government of Hindenburg-Papen-Schleicher, the Brandlerites refer to Marx and express thereby an ironic hope that his authority may also have weight with us. It is difficult to be made fools of in a more flagrant manner (?). The fact is that Marx and Engels wrote not only of bonapartism of the two Bonaparts but also of other species thereof. Beginning, it seems, with the year 1864, they have likened hot once the “national” regime of Bismarck to French bonapartism. And this in spite of the fact that Bismarck was not a pseudo-radical demagogue and so far as we know, was not supported by the peasantry. The Iron Chancellor was not raised to power as a result of a plebiscite, but was duly appointed by his legitimate and hereditary king. And nevertheless Marx and Engels are right. Bismarck made use in a bonapartist fashion of the antagonism between the propertied classes, and the rising proletariat, overcoming in this way the antagonism within the two propertied classes, between the Junkerdom and the bourgeoisie, and raised a military-police apparatus over the nation. The policy of Bismarck is that very tradition to which the “theoreticians” of present German bonapartism refer. True, Bismarck solved in his fashion the problem of German unity, of the external greatness of Germany. Papen however so far only promises to obtain for Germany “equality” on the international arena. Not a small difference! But we were not trying to prove that the bonapartism of Papen is of the same calibre as the bonapartism of Bismarck. Napoleon the Third was also only a parody of his pretended uncle.

The reference to Marx as seen has a slovenly character. That Thalheimer does not understand the dialectics of Marxism we suspected long ago. But, we must admit, we thought that at least he knew the texts of Marx and Engels. We take this opportunity to correct our mistake.

Our characteristic of the presidential government rejected by the Brandlerites received a very brilliant confirmation from a very unexpected and in its way “authoritative” source. With regard to the dissolution, of the “five-day” Reichstag DAZ (Deutsche Allegemeine Zeitung – organ of heavy industry) quoted on August 28th in a long article the work of Marx The 18th Brumaire – for what purpose? No more and no less than in support of the historical and political rights of the president to put his boot on the neck of people’s representation. The organ of heavy industry risked at a difficult moment drinking from the poisoned wells of Marxism. With a remarkable adroitness the paper takes from the immortal pamphlet a long quotation explaining how and why the French president as the incarnation of the “nation” obtained a preponderance over the split up parliament. The same article of the DAZ reminds very apropos how in the spring of 1890 Bismarck developed a plan for a most suitable governmental change. Napoleon the Third and Bismarck as forerunners of presidential government are called by the right name by the Berlin newspaper which in August at least played the role of an official organ.

To quote The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon in reference to the “July 20th of von Papen’’ is of course very risky since Marx characterized the regime of Napoleon in the most acid terms as the regime of adventurists, crooks and pimps. Actually DAZ could be brought to punishment for a malicious slander of the government. But if we should leave aside this indirect inconvenience, there remains nevertheless the doubtless fact that the historic instinct brought DAZ to the proper place. Unfortunately one can not say the same of the theoretical wisdom of Thalheimer.

Bonapartism of the era of the decline of capitalism differs widely from bonapartism of the era of ascension of bourgeois society. German bonapartism to not supported directly by the petty bourgeoisie of the country and village, and this is not accidental. Precisely therefore we wrote at one time of the weakness of the government of Papen which holds on only by the neutralization of two camps: the proletariat and the fascists.

But behind Papen stand the great landowners, finance capital, generals – so rejoin other “Marxists”. Do not the propertied classes in itself present a great force? This argument proves once more that it is much easier to understand class relations in their general sociological outline than in a concrete historical form. Yes, immediately behind Papen stand the propertied heights and they only: precisely therein is contained the cause of his weakness.

Under the conditions of present-day capitalism a government which would not be the agency of finance capital is in general impossible. But of all possible agencies the government of Papen is the least stable one. If the ruling classes could rule directly, they would have no need either of parliamentarism, or of social democracy, or of Fascism. The government of Papen reveals too clearly finance capital, leaving it even without the sanctified [word missing] ordered by the Prussian commissar Brakht. Just because the extra-party, “national” government is in fact able to speak only in the name of the social heights, capital is over more careful not to identify itself with the government of Papen. DAZ wants to find for the presidential government support in the national-socialist masses and in the language of ultimatums demands of Papen a bloc with Hitler which means capitulation to him.

In evaluating the “strength” of the presidential government we must not forget the circumstance, that if finance capital stand behind Papen, this does not at all mean that it falls together with him. Finance capital has innumerably more possibilities than Hindenburg-Papen-Schleicher. In case of the sharpening of contradictions there remains the reserve of pure Fascism. In case of the lowering of contradictions one will maneuver until the time when the proletariat puts its knee on its chest. For how long Papen will maneuver the near future will show.

These lines will appear in the press when the new elections to the Reichstag will have already passed. The bonapartist nature of the “anti-French” government of Papen will inevitably reveal itself with a new force, but also its weakness. We will take this up again in due time.

Prinkipo, October 30, 1932


– Leon Trotsky, “Bonapartism in Germany,” The Militant, Vol. V No. 50, 17 December 1932, pp. 1 & 4.

Picture is cover of Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, Issue 24September 11, 1932.

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“Germania,” by Karl Arnold, Simplicissimus. Vol. 37, Issue 25, September 18, 1932. p. 292.

“Nichts zum Anziehen, aber standig in Sorge um die neue Hutmode.” [Nothing to put on, but constantly worried about the new fashion.]  

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“I finished last time by telling you about Henry Ashby Turner, his own early research into Weimar Big Business, his gradually greater and greater hatred of anything which even resembled a Communist, and his attacks on [David] Abraham’s book, which included a scathing review, an “open letter” challenging Abraham to intellectual duel, talking to everyone in that field of history he could get to at conventions, and even letters with detailed attacks on the substance of Abraham’s book. Photocopies of these letters were passed from hand to hand in the Profession —including eventually into my hands, and boy do I wish I had made photocopies of my own before returning the ones I was lent!

Turner was attacking from a strong position. Despite some unease with how extreme some of his political views had become, no fair judge could call Turner less than extremely knowledgeable in the field, personally a gentleman, and with a track record not only of meticulous scholarship, but of writing in a clear style, without elaborate theoretical frameworks or jargon. David Abraham, on the other hand, was not only hard to read (and bear in mind that the articles I have recommended to you in the syllabus are the simple versions), he was fairly easy to dislike. One of my old professors was a grad student at Princeton when Abraham was still bathing in the warmth of rave reviews. Abraham gave a talk, he got asked a tough question, and his answer boiled down to “Graduate students do not question Professors!” —which is about as wrong as you can get.

These things were very much on my mind when, as a graduate student myself, I took some copies of Turner’s letters to the Scott library to compare them, closely, with Abraham’s book. I had all but signed my enlistment papers for Turner’s side in this little war. My heart was there, but my mind reminded me of two of the points we insisted on with undergraduate essays: One is: “Don’t tell me, show me!”. The other is: “Make comparisons that really compare.” If I did less it was going to get a little hard to look myself in the bathroom mirror every day.

That May week-end in Scott, an odd thing happened. As I compared Turner’s letters with Abraham’s book, the picture Turner gave, of Abraham doing everything from deliberately misquoting his sources to actually making sources up, started to blur and fade. What is, for example, the point so vital that Abraham would make up a non-existent book and risk his career to support it? (p. 157 note 114 of Abraham’s first edition, as cited by Turner’s letter of 28 May, 1983). It turned out to underpin the point that on trade policy various individuals had different interests, and that many economic organisations sought the help of political parties or of President Hindenburg. You or I wouldn’t even bother to use a reference for a truth that obvious. It seemed odd that anyone would falsify a reference to prove something like that. Certifying a book as absolutely non-existent takes forever, so I forged on to another point.

Turner (p.2, same letter) wrote that two of the documents Abraham quotes (notional correspondence between Martin Blank (an industry lobbyist in Berlin), and Paul Reusch on 29 Dec., 1930 and 2 January, 1931) did not exist. He argued that their non-existence shoots down much of Abraham’s book because Abraham uses them to prove that Reusch —who was both a big industrialist in his own right, and an important members of various industry pressure groups— was saying “Bring on Hugenberg (the leader of the German Conservative party [DNVP]) and the Nazis, the sooner the better!”

That sort of accusation is tremendously hard to deal with. I, Donald G. Wileman, cannot afford to go to archives in Germany whenever I like and check on the existence or non-existence of documents. Even if you can afford the time and money, that sort of process is not easy. Anyone who’s ever handled a real document collection will tell you how disorganised even a carefully curated, organised one can get, and how items somehow seem to move from folder to folder and from box to box. Turner did not go to Germany before he made his charges. He relied on a letter from the Archivist in charge of the collection that the letters supposedly came from, saying that they were not in the folder Abraham said they came from. So even the Archivist’s letter does not testify that the documents do not exist —just that they were not in one particular place, at one particular time. Worse, as it later turned out,  Turner in at least one case asked the Archivist to look for a “letter” instead of a “report”, and archivists are nothing if not literal-minded. Ask for a letter with a particular date and that is exactly what they’ll look for —not for anything else that might have been the item you wanted, But that was all the confirmation Turner sought for his own memory, aside from asking a few colleagues if they remembered seeing those letters.

If I cannot go to Germany whenever I want to check on the status of a document, I, or you, or anyone can read the relevant section of the Abraham book (pp. 164-65 and 316). And that material simply does not say what Turner claimed it does. What it does do is quote one of Reusch’s agents getting all enthused about the Nazis, and Reusch replying with a much softer, more careful position. And if the document was indeed created out of thin air, doing such a risky thing, just to falsely “prove” Abraham’s argument that a coalition government of all the bourgeois parties was no longer a do-able thing by 1931 —makes no sense. Once again, it hardly needs proof since it’s widely agreed on —including by Turner. Abraham’s larger argument on the pages that Turner cites, is that the idea of supporting Hitler, which was very controversial and had very little support among Big Business as late as early 1930, was being looked at seriously by more and more industrialists by 1931 —and that contention Abraham backs with a great deal of evidence which no one disputes —including a speech made at a General Electric banquet in New York City by none other than Carl Siemens (as in Siemens microphones) —evidence which Turner did not challenge.

The more points I looked up, the more I had this sort of experience. The point slowly changed from being whether Abraham had played merry hell with the sources, to being how a scholar as careful and precise about detail as Turner, could have misread Abraham so many times, and how he could so often overplay the importance of this point or that, to the structure of Abraham’s argument, which emerged from my comparison exercise pretty much undamaged in its essentials, even if you threw out every bit that Turner attacked. I started to get the uneasy feeling that I had come this close to signing up with the Confederate army.”

– from Donald G. Wileman’s great personal history of the Turner-Abraham controversy, “On With Abraham,” undated webpage. 

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“It is essential for any analysis of the [German] inflation to stress its links to the war
experience. Walter Benjamin noted that the soldiers who returned from
the battlefields had “grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience.” He also applies this observation to the period after
the war and explains this period as a series of assaults that made it increasingly difficult to form any coherent structure of experience: 

has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than strategic experience by tactical warfare, economic experience by inflation, bodily experience by hunger and moral experience by those in power. A generation
that had still taken the horse-drawn tram to school found itself under the
open sky, in a landscape in which nothing remained unchanged but the
clouds — and in the middle, in a force field of destructive torrents and ex-
plosions, the tiny, fragile human body” (214). 

What Benjamin separates
into various categories of experience actually came together during both
the inflation and wartime: economic and social distress, the cynicism of
the powerful—be it the arrogance of the German General Staff or the unscrupulous speculations of the profiteers—and the painful experience of
seeing one’s own life plans brutally dashed. Like war, inflation intervened
in the lives of individuals in unpredictable ways. During wartime, a sud-
den order to an embattled segment of the front lines could mean almost
certain death for some, while others sat out the horrors of war in a state
of stupefying boredom on the supply lines. Analogously, inflation robbed
some people of their entire fortunes, while lucky investments made others rich almost overnight. Furthermore, living up to such highly regarded
social mores as youthful bravery and bourgeois prudence could have
disastrous consequences during war or inflation. The daily erratic up
and down of the currency exchange and ruthless speculation did to the
world of a good Prussian household what the newly invented machine gun and mustard gas did to the twenty-year-old German and French soldiers who jumped out of their trenches, eager to prove their heroism.

Of the numerous parallels between the world war and hyperinflation,
another example should be mentioned here. Both events affected the
rhythm and even the very notion of time. Soldiers’ diaries speak of the
unbearable alternation between phases of complete temporal emptiness,
of waiting and boredom, and the sudden compression of time into extreme moments during combat when bare survival was at stake. This,
together with the unpredictable course of the war, led to a gradual disappearance of the temporal dimensions of past and present. The idea of
making plans for the future faded, and all that remained was the frequently dull, sometimes euphoric, and often terrifying present. The inflation led as well to shifts in people’s sense of time. Here the experience
was one of a fantastically heightened tempo, dragged along by the rising
speed of the circulation of money. Depreciation forced people to buy
quickly. Long-term economic planning collapsed because the inflation
did not progress along a linear path, but intermittently. Phases of rapid
depreciation were followed by moments of stabilization, which made
some people hope and others fear for their investments.

The shame, humiliation, and silence that occur when events overstretch any framework of communicable experience—these reactions
were common both to war and to inflation. Only a naive perspective on
human experience and its translation into cultural representation assume that everything that happened can more or less smoothly enter into
a meaningful narration or at least a descriptive expression. Instead, we
recognize that events linked to pain, shame, and humiliation or, even
worse, events that violate all limits of moral categories resist narrative
integration. Canetti observed that people wanted to conceal, to hush
up their experiences during inflation (Crowds and Power 183). Both the
experience of war and inflation are aptly described as traumatic. The etymology of trauma goes back to the classical Greek word wound. In its
modern use it contains three meanings. In surgery, a trauma is a massive
internal injury that may not be apparent from the outside. In psychiatry,
the word means a psychic injury caused by an emotional shock that is
then repressed, and often results in a variety of behavioral disorders.
And third, as with many terms from individual psychology, trauma is often used figuratively and expansively to indicate the effects of an event
on groups of people or even on whole societies. 

For many soldiers who survived the atrocious trench battles, the war was by no means over in 1918. Already during the conflict, all armies
had to account not only for the dead and the physically wounded but also
for victims of war neuroses or so-called shell shock. Many of those continued to have nightmares and anxiety attacks and showed erratic forms
of behavior after the war. In her work on trauma, Cathy Caruth emphasizes certain observations that Freud made on war neuroses: traumatic
dreams and flashbacks are of a “surprising literality and non-symbolic
nature,” and a period of latency lies between the traumatic event and the
development of neurotic symptoms. 

For our discussion these recurrent, nonsymbolic nightmares characteristic of survivors of extreme situations need to be separated from the
figurative use of the word when it refers to the “trauma of inflation.”
Obviously, whole societies cannot be traumatized in the same way as an
individual who suffers a concrete traumatic episode. Certainly, the figurative use of trauma includes some of the characteristics of the medical
condition: a deep injury not directly visible, repeated memories of the
event, and sometimes a latency between event and recollection. Yet the
figurative nature of “inflation trauma” points beyond the strict limits of
clinical psychology; rather, it addresses the impact on social mentalities
and forms of shared memory. Considering inflation as trauma helps us
to realize that much of the humiliation suffered during the inflation was
repressed. We should also remember that representations of the inflation
may be affected in the same way that shameful personal experiences are
reformulated, displaced, and condensed by dreams. The methodological
consequences of these realizations are twofold. First, the figurative use
of trauma should lead us to investigate a wide range of symbolic repre-
sentations and cultural reenactments of the inflation. Second, such an
analysis is possible only if we have a firm idea of what made the inflation
so traumatic. Jürgen von Kruedener summarizes its devastating social
effects as a “three-pronged attack on social identity” (251) that left deep
psychological wounds on its victims: a loss in social prestige or position,
a loss in personal freedom as they were forced to adapt their daily lives
to the frenzy of currency devaluation, and a loss in personal security
(231). As a description of real social distress, these three categories are
certainly correct. Yet in order to integrate inflation into a larger concept
as a crisis of modernity, one has to stress the specific dynamics that in the
end resulted in such a loss of status, freedom, and security. I argue that
the triadic constellation of massification, depreciation, and accelerated
circulation gives us not only a fuller perspective on the cultural and psychological circumstances of these traumatic losses, but it also leads us to the primary concern of this study, the question of how the “trauma of
inflation” manifests itself in German culture.”

– Bernd Widdig, Culture and Inflation
in Weimar Germany
. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.  pp. 22-27.

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