Ideological friends or foes?

Socialism in September 1939: Stalin vs. Hitler

With regard to cultural education, workers were paid for their tickets to concerts of classical music or gala shows from the DAF’s rich budget that was mostly financed by entrepreneurs. (A worker paid one reichsmark for a Berlin Opera ticket, while the average price actually was three to four reichsmarks.) They even arranged for a number of workers to attend the annual Bayreuth Wagner Festival. The package from the KdF included a week-long stay (three concerts, hotel accommodations, and meals) and cost 65 reichsmarks, something the man in the street could afford.

By the Second World War the KdF’s efforts had reached half of all Germans, including residents of Austria, Sudetenland, and Klaipeda, which had been annexed by the Third Reich.

The KdF’s calling card was its world-unique tourist project for ordinary Germans under the motto “German worker travels.” The DAF press secretary thus described this field of endeavor: “The fact that thousands of people with calloused hands are now happily spending their vacations is the best evidence and propaganda of the people’s character of the new government.”

This was not empty phraseology. The KdF organized week-long tourist trips in Germany, weekend bicycle, walking, or walking-and-bus tours. Often a factory’s entire manpower or separate families could make such a trip, at reasonable costs, owing to a number of discounts. For example, an economy class train ticket could be 25–50 percent of the regular price, and discounts on hotel accommodations and meals were equally steep. Of course, such low prices often implied poor service, but the workers remained happy because tourism, above all trips on board ships and abroad, had been regarded as the privilege of the cream of society before the Nazis came to power.

In order to organize sea voyages for KdF members, old ships were used at first, although they were poorly equipped for large-scale tourist voyages, but on May 1, 1926, two twin liners, Wilhelm Gustloff and Robert Ley, started being built at the Kiel Shipyard, each designed to accommodate 1,600 passengers. Both were launched next May, along with the liners Admiral, Sierra Cordova, and Oceana that would ply the Atlantic, Baltic, and Mediterranean waters.

A week-long voyage to Madeira on board Robert Ley cost 150 reichsmarks, meals included. It was quite a lot of money, but an average worker could afford it by working overtime. Although not ranking with the top-notch liners, the DAF ships were reasonably comfortably equipped for the bulk of tourists. By way of comparison, an average travel agency charged 400 reichsmarks for a voyage to Madeira, something only well-off strata could afford. Other cruises were organized for DAF workers, including Heligoland, Norwegian fjords, Tenerife, Caribbean, Azores, Venice, Naples, and Athens. Plans were made for voyages to friendly Japan, but then the Second World War broke out.

The DAF had its own sports facilities, tourist and ski lodges in Bavaria, Tyrol, plus the equipment for sailing and boat racing. Previously sailing was regarded as a bourgeois sport, but now many were able to do it, considering that a week-long training course cost 50-60 reichsmarks, coaching service included. A week-long mountain-skiing course cost 24 reichsmarks, including coaching, hotel accommodation, food, equipment, and traveling expenses. Once again, at the time an average German employee received 170 reichsmarks a month. Although it was noticeable less than in Great Britain or France, owing to a system of social preferences adopted by Germany in the second half of the 1930s, its average living standard was the highest in Europe. Not surprisingly, 75 percent of German workers were affiliated with the DAF in 1939, although no coercion had been used.

Needless to say, all these projects and programs were not designed for the Untermenschen, members of the inferior races—Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, and all non-Aryan people. However, German workers and other hired German labor, exhausted by many years of crisis and now made happy by the Fuehrer, preferred to look the other way.

There was, however, an important social sphere where the German Nationalist Socialist leadership failed to show tangible headway: housing construction. For example, there were 230,000 apartments built in the Weimar Republic, compared to 102,000 under the Nazis (most of them were started before the 1929 crisis, then stopped, and finally resumed in 1934). To solve the housing problem, the Nazis increased their housing resources by evicting Jewish residents. Within six months after the Anschluss, 44,000 Jewish apartments were vacated in Vienna so the new Aryan tenants could move in. The Jews had to make do with what living they were offered in the slums. This, however, could not solve the problem, considering the demand for 150,000 apartments in Vienna in early 1938. In 1940, 40,000 Jewish residents who remained in Vienna were deported to Poland, but this did not solve the problem, either.

Another important aspect to Hitler’s socialism: practically for the entire duration of the Second World War the German workers had an eight-hour workday, although they habitually worked overtime and were paid extra. The personal income tax rate had nearly tripled between 1938 and 1942. There were high taxes levied on alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, theater tickets, and public transport fares. Contrary to what Goebbels shouted about total warfare, there were no tangible cuts in the output of consumer goods until early 1945.

By and large, owing to the German government’s able social management and the DAF leader Robert Ley’s energetic efforts, the Nazi leadership succeeded in winning almost unlimited support of the Western world’s most highly qualified and best organized working class practically until the end of the Second World War. This support did not wane even during the critical periods (the Battle of Stalingrad, large-scale Allied air raids, and the entry of Allied forces into the territory of Germany). There was not a single spontaneous labor uprising against the Nazi regime (strange as it may seem, career army officers, intellectuals, clergymen, but not proletarians were the largest groups among the anti-Nazi movement activists).


A closer look at National Socialism shows that there is more to this phenomenon than claimed by Soviet and even Western propaganda. Arnold Joseph Toynbee wrote that National Socialism was one of the responses to the strong challenge of the first half of the 20th century, modernization, an adequate response to which was impossible without creating some version of the social state. The fact remains that German was the first to lay the foundations of this kind of state in the late 19th century, without waiting for a full-scale challenge, and reinforced them in the first decade of the 20th century. Great Britain and the Scandinavian counties followed in Germany’s footsteps in the early 20th century.

Therefore, contrary to the widespread belief, Russia was not the first to embark on a project aimed at building a social state. Moreover, until the mid-1950s, this project remained on paper in Russia—the Soviet Union, to be precise—while slogans calling to nationalize production facilities were used to camouflage the dictatorship of the new ruling class, nomenklatura, which supervised the modernization process, guiding it along the right lines.

In Italy, in the 1920s and the 1930s, a social state was built in the form of co-operative society where the distribution of the social products was supervised by a complex system of regulations subjected to Mussolini’s authority. In Germany, two processes ran in parallel: restoration of certain social standards the country had before the First World War and a search for essentially new solutions to the problems of harmonizing and balancing out the differences between social relationships. Unlike the Scandinavian or US democracies, at the time of Roosevelt’s New Deal, what Italy, Germany, and the USSR had in common was a quasisocial rather than truly social state. Figuratively speaking, instead of society nationalizing the state, the state made society its own. This transformation involved the latest technological and spin-doctor tools, which permits its description as a totalitarian system, totalitarian socialism.

Open programming of the lives of all workers and hired labor and keeping these lives under control was the other side of the coin and an inalienable component of all social programs undertaken by the German government and the National Socialist Party. Forty-four thousand DAF staff members were not only upgrading the culture of work and leisure, but also leading this along the right lines, instilling in them the National Socialist spirit and reaffirming the Aryan values. The workers could choose only between ski and sea resorts, guided tours of Athens, a carefully selected repertoire of movies and plays, books offered by mobile libraries. All this was decided by the party leadership. Add to this the “temporary solution” to the housing problem—by deporting the unwanted immigrants, mostly Jews, but also Germans with the “wrong orientation” (i.e., political and other dissenters), Poles, and members of other “inferior” ethnic groups. More than 100,000 Aryan families in Berlin improved their living conditions after this clean-up operation, and this was approximately the same number that received newly built apartments.

In other words, German workers paid for their wellbeing with their freedom. Erich Fromm describes this choice made by Germans for the benefit of stability and social guarantees in his well-known book Escape from Freedom. However, unlike the peoples of the former Soviet Union, where such an escape was undertaken in pursuit of the illusory purpose of social justice or worldwide revolution, the German working masses received tangible earthly benefits instead of political and cultural/spiritual liberties. The fact remains that totalitarian socialism—either Bolshevism or Hitlerism—is an intrinsically aggressive xenophobic and thus doomed doctrine. Likewise, it leads to destruction the people that chooses social guarantees, however important, in exchange for freedom.

Back in September 1939, tens of thousands of Soviet servicemen who could take a closer look at the Wehrmacht, along with tens of millions of civilians who had experienced a large-scale famine, terror, and overall misery, usually gave little thought to such sophisticated matters. All they could see and feel was that Stalin’s socialism was markedly lagging behind that of Hitler’s when it came to caring for the man in the street.

In my opinion, here lies one of the main reasons behind the catastrophe that befell the Red Army and the Soviet system in 1941. However, there is no “good” totalitarian socialism, whatever its claimed benefits. Unfortunately, not everyone has arrived at this conclusion by now, and many still have to learn the lesson from the sad experience of Germany in the 1930s.