Into the Darkness : Chapter 10: The Labor Front

Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War 


by Lothrop Stoddard



Chapter 10: The Labor Front

The Third Reich’s whole economic life is what Nazis frankly call a Wehrwirtschaft ­ an economy run on military lines. That is why they use military terms to describe its various activities. Having observed the Battle of the Land, let us now survey the industrial sector, known as the Labor Front.

Before attempting this survey, however, one point should be emphatically made which applies not only here but also in subsequent chapters dealing with institutional aspects of the Third Reich. In each case a well­rounded presentation would have involved prolonged first­hand investigation and extensive research. This was obviously impossible during a three months’ stay in Germany. The best I could do was a limited amount of personal observation plus discussions with officials and a study of available data. These were checked as far as possible with qualified foreign students and observers, but I am aware that the results are not conclusive. Nazi spokesmen present the official case with inadequate rebuttal or full disclosure of the other side of the story. The upshot is a more or less unbalanced treatment which can be legitimately criticized.

All this I know and deplore. But I could see no practical alternative. To have confined myself solely to my own observations and impressions would have meant a series of fragmentary sketches which would have been intelligible only to readers who already had considerable knowledge of the subjects touched upon. These subjects are so little known to the general public in America that most readers would presumably have obtained neither a connected picture of wartime Germany nor a background against which matters specifically treated could be viewed.

One of the first acts of the Nazi regime was to dissolve the old labor unions and merge them into a single organization under state control. This, however, was not a mere Nazi “One Big Union.” Precisely as the Nazis did in agriculture, so they here co­ ordinated everybody connected with industry into a huge vertical trust. The lowliest workingman and the biggest manufacturer became (at least technically) fellow­members of the new Labor Front. And the white­collar workers were likewise in the same boat.

Here, as elsewhere, we note the underlying principle of the Third Reich ­ the classless State mobilized for collective aims in accordance with the slogan: Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz ­ “The common weal above individual advantage.” In short, everything and everybody subordinated to the advancement of a regime which is in some respects a cross between modern Guild Socialism and the craft guilds of the Middle Ages. The feudal note is clear. Employers are termed “leaders“; employees became “followers” or “retainers.” Both are adjured to cherish mutual loyalty and duty. Their personal dignity is emphasized by “Courts of Honor.” Strikes, lockouts, and arbitrary “hire­ nd ­fire” are alike prohibited. The final arbiters in this curious set­up are “Trustees of Labor,” who can discipline or discharge anyone, even “leaders.” Needless to say, these Trustees are Party members. They see to it that the whole Labor Front functions efficiently in full accordance with the general policies laid down by the Nazi Government.

Such is the theory. How has it worked out in practice? First let us try to visualize the Labor Front. This huge organization, embracing the entire structure of German industry, has nearly 30,000,000 members. Membership is compulsory. So are the dues, individually moderate but aggregating a vast fund, expended as the leadership sees fit. The leader is, of course, Dr. Robert Ley, whom we saw haranguing the Duesseldorf workers. A florid, dynamic man with compelling gray eyes, he apparently cannot modulate his voice, for my ear­drums literally ached after a long conversation I had with him.

On the whole, we can say of the Labor Front what we said of the Food Estate ­ it worked out most advantageously for its members during the early years of the Nazi regime. Its outstanding success was the triumph over mass unemployment. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Germany had 7,000,000 unemployed. In proportion to total populations, this was worse than in the lowest  depth of our depression at about the same time. The drastic measures of the Nazi regime, repellant though they are to our ideals, not only rapidly did away with unemployment but presently brought about a growing labor shortage. Germany was working full­time. Real wages did not make so good a showing. They had risen only slightly; so the individual work­ingman was financially not much better off than he had been in 1933 ­ if he then had a job. However, all the former unemployed now did have jobs. Also, the Nazi apologists were careful to point out to me, the workers had gained certain advantages, such as the Strength through Joy benefits, which we will examine later on.

The year 1937 is a turning­point in the status of German labor. By that time the famous Four Year Plan had got well into its stride. The Third Reich had embarked upon an aggressive foreign policy which made war at least likely, if not certain. Wehrwirtschaft thus became a genuine war­economy. To prepare for all contingencies, labor and capital were regimented as ruthlessly as was agriculture. The results were as grim as they were inevitable. In the summer of 1938, a Government decree obligated all able­bodied men and women for short­term service to meet “nationally urgent tasks.” Almost at the same time, another decree fixed maximum wages and salaries. Labor was not only tied to its present jobs but could be taken from them and sent anywhere the Government might think fit. The principle of the eight­hour day was discarded for a ten­hour day, with a maximum of fourteen hours in exceptional cases. Restrictions on the labor of women and children were also relaxed.

When the war actually came a year later, this draconic program was pushed to its logical conclusion. In wartime Germany today, labor is everywhere working at the limit of its capacity. Indeed the limit of human endurance seems to have been **page torn**ped. Although such matters cannot there be discussed in print, Germany is full of rumors concerning a falling­ off of production in many lines. The main reasons seems to be sheer overstrain, but there is doubtless a considerable amount of calculated “ca’ canny.” We here come to the highly controversial subject of popular discontent against the Nazi regime. Even shirking by workingmen is treated as “sabotage” and may be punished by death; so no German admits opposition to anything unless he has full confidence in the one to whom he speaks. Resident journalists sometimes have good lines of information; but even they seldom get specific for fear of betraying German informants into a concentration camp or worse. It is thus very difficult for the temporary observer to assess accurately the amount of opposition which today exists.

The nearest I came to first­hand acquaintance with militant unrest was one evening when a journalistic colleague took me to a beer hall in a poor quarter east of Alexanderplatz. The clientele looked sordid and semi­criminal. My colleague introduced me to one hard­looking citizen who, when asked how he stood politically, answered sourly: “Sure I’m a Nazi ­ oh, yeah? Phuuugh!” He made that last remark by breathing hard against the back of his hand pressed against his lips, which resulted in a loud “Bronx cheer.” Also he made no effort to lower his voice; so his words were overheard by sitters at nearby tables ­ who grinned appreciatively.

However, I hesitate to generalize from this incident and a few other matters along the same line, any more than I would be apt to deduce an impending revolution in America from frequenting tough joints around Union Square, New York. I do think that genuine unrest exists in Germany today ­ far more than any Nazi spokesman would care to admit. But I do not believe that it is either as widespread or as deep­seated as we in America are led to believe. Many of the older trades­unionists have presumably never reconciled themselves to the new order of things, yet I found scant evidence that the younger generation shared their idealistic attitude.

The reason for this lack of idealistic roots to such militant opposition as exists is because Nazism has offered the workers certain popular appeals ­ some psychological, others tangible, still others evoked by the old lure of “bread and circuses.” In the first place, the Labor Front promised working­men greater security and self­respect. The employing class under both the Empire and the Weimar Republic tended to be arrogant, hard­ handed plutocrats. A Statute which stressed the dignity of labor, set up Courts of Honor, and was run by State Trustees who often cracked down on big industrialists might give the average workingman an emotional glow that partly offset low wages and strict regimentation. This was especially true in the first years of the Nazi regime.

Furthermore, the Labor Front has done something to improve working conditions along the most advanced lines. This phase of its activities is known as Schoenheit der Arbeit ­ “The Beautification of Labor.” A minority of employers had voluntarily begun the movement under the Weimar Republic and even under the Empire, replacing ugly, dreary factories by more cheerful and more healthful surroundings. However, too many of the old type remained, depressing the worker by dirt, smoke, bad lighting, worse plumbing, and no fit place for luncheon or rest periods. Few owners of such factories seem to have had the vision or the money to realize that the worker’s efficiency would be notably heightened by cleaner and cheerier surroundings. The Labor Front swept away many such abuses. Employers were compelled to clean house, and were lent part of the money needed to do so. Factories were either remodeled or scrapped while new ones were erected, scientifically built to give the workers a maximum of light and air. These new factories were set in park­like grounds, wherein workers could spend their rest periods or on which they could look while working instead of having to gaze at a blank wall or a sordid shed. Tasteful rest­ rooms, lunch­rooms where hot meals are served, up-­to-­date washroom facilities ­ these are the new order of the day. I can vouch for these matters, because I ate good (if simple) meals and inspected the other improvements in several factories during my stay in Germany. Especially was I minutely shown the locker­ rooms, swimming ­pools, shower­baths, and toilets. Coming from plumbing ­conscious America, I found few novelties. But their eager pride in such matters made me realize how recent they must have been. Of course I was shown the best. I do not know their percentage to the total number of factories.

One interesting feature was the competitions between factories for model championships. I recall one factory which had gained that honor the summer previous. A special swastika banner symbolized the triumph ­ and it must be re­earned each year if it is not to go elsewhere. I was shown photographs of the presentation ceremonies, and of the subsequent jollification when all hands, from executives down, went off in chartered buses to a picnic at a nearby amusement place.

An even more important, and certainly a more publicized method of winning the masses to National Socialism is that known as Kraft durch Freude ­ “Strength through Joy.” This is the most gigantic scheme of organized, state­directed entertainment that the world has ever seen. It includes a wide variety of activities, from “highbrow” art and music to popular amusement, travel, and sport. Every member of the Labor Front can participate, from high ­paid executives to day laborers; from women secretaries to servant girls. Conversely, no one outside the Labor Front can share its benefits.

The theory behind the experiment is thus explained by Dr. Ley: “Work entails physical and nervous strain liable to leave a feeling of bodily and mental exhaustion which cannot be eradicated by merely going to rest. Mind and body require new nourishment. Since during the hours of labor a maximum of effort and attention is demanded of the worker, it is essential that during his leisure hours the best of everything should be offered him in the shape of spiritual, intellectual, and physical recreation, in order to maintain, or if necessary restore, the joy of life and work.” As he put it to me: “The more work we give men to do, the more enjoyment we must give them too.” With typical German thoroughness, every form of recreation has been organized. When we read of palatial “K.d.F.” liners gliding through Norwegian fjords or special trains discharging thousands of trippers at sea beaches or inland beauty spots, we are apt to think of K.d.F. as a glorified tourist agency. These long vacations are, however, only high spots for relatively small numbers of workers in a program which goes on in every industrial locality throughout the year. The smallest town is apt to have its little amateur K.d.F. orchestra, gymnasium, sports field, and hiking club.

To the individualist Anglo­Saxon, all this regimented “leisure to order” may not sound particularly attractive. “To order” it certainly is, and the Nazis make no bones about it. K.d.F. is not merely a privilege; it is a duty as well. Says Dr. Ley: “We do not intend to leave it to the individual to decide whether he desires,  or does not desire, a holiday. It has become compulsory.” Again, even here, we detect the military note. One of Dr. Ley’s best­ known publications is a pamphlet entitled: “A People Conquers Joy.” However, these aspects are not specifically Nazi; they reflect the average German’s faith in organization and his acquiescence in state direction and control. There seems to be no doubt that Kraft durch Freude is generally popular and that it is prized as the outstanding benefit which the industrial masses have gained from the Nazi regime.

Chapter 2: Berlin Blackout
Chapter 3: Getting on with the Job
Chapter 4: Junketing Through Germany
Chapter 5: This Detested War
Chapter 6: Vienna and Bratislava
Chapter 7: Iron Rations
Chapter 8: A Berlin Lady Goes to Market
Chapter 9: The Battle of the Land
Chapter 10: The Labor Front
Chapter 11: The Army of the Spade
Chapter 12: Hitler Youth
Chapter 13: Women of the Third Reich
Chapter 14: Behind the Winter­Help
Chapter 15: Socialized Health
Chapter 16: In a Eugenics Court
Chapter 17: I See Hitler
Chapter 18: Mid­Winter Berlin
Chapter 19: Berlin to Budapest
Chapter 20: The Party
Chapter 21: The Totalitarian State
Chapter 22: Closed Doors
Chapter 23: Out of the Shadow


PDF of this post (click to download or view):  Into the Darkness – Chap 10
Version History
Version 3: Nov 27, 2014 – Added PDF of post
Version 2: Wed, Feb 5, 2014. Added Chapter links.
Version 1: Published Jan 22 2014 – Text only.
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