March 31, 2017

1931. Young Germans Turn to Radicalism

Radicalism Overtakes Germany
"Thousands of young men flocked to hang upon the words of their leader, Reichsfuhrer Adolf Hitler, as he addressed the convention of the National Socialist Party in Nuremberg, Germany on Sept. 11, 1935" (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II. In 1931, historian Emil Ludwig examined the radicalization of German youth.

From The New York Times, September 20, 1931:
Cut Adrift From the Old Authority Symbolized by the Throne and the Army and Discontented With Things as They Are, They Turn, Says Ludwig, to Radicalism Both Left and Right
In the present crisis in Europe much depends on Germany's attitude—and a highly important aspect of that attitude is the state of mind of Germany's youth. Emil Ludwig, the noted German historian, undertakes in the following article to discuss the present aspirations, problems and perplexities that confront the generation that has grown up in Germany since the war.

If the great war had the moral import in which America believed for a while, its effect upon the youth of Europe should have been highly beneficial. Instead, however, a comparison of the youth of 1930 with that of 1900 reveals a universal decline of moral and rise of materialistic elements. In Germany, the scene of the most intense suffering, not during the war but during the subsequent peace, the confusion is doubly great. Here the war brought threefold harm to the youth that was to grow up: it destroyed these young people's ancestral ideals, plunged them into poverty, and woke in them a feeling of unjust suffering that rouses them to vengeance. These three points must be kept in mind by any fair-minded observer of German youth who views it with anxiety or disapprobation. The task of judging the young always is difficult for a man of 50; in this case opposed political trends make it particularly complicated.

For politics stands foremost as a cause of agitation and division among the German youth. While we were all too unpolitical in 1900—for our best men kept aloof from government affairs, and even the current opposition found its expression not in activity but in abstention from social problems—there is today not a single family or school or club without its political aspects; indeed, the ruinous conflict that is destroying the adults is brought even into the nursery, by means of badges, songs and various practices.

•   •   •

What the young Germans today lack is a definite authority which they could obey. Formerly three-quarters of the people saw it in their king and all royal institutions; even the young workers exhausted their opposition in rare assemblies and moderate papers. When this authority was suddenly abolished and the new one that was quickly formed was attacked, disputed and, very soon, affronted, we had, for the first time in a thousand years, a young German generation torn loose from tradition. The sense of obedience inborn in the Germans, which made them the most orderly people in the world, the only people which in the final analysis never experienced an actual revolution—this sense of obedience was based on a hierarchy whose finest representatives wore uniforms. Since every youth had to wear the king's coat for a year—if he was a poor boy, for three years—discipline permeated even the most crimson among workers, and fiery Socialists could be heard singing their longing for youth in the song which ran:
"Nein, nein, sie kommt nicht mehr,
Sie ist beim Militaer."
("No, no, it won't come back,
it's in the army.")
That is why revolution was to be expected less in Germany than in any other European nation, and that is why the upheaval, virtually inevitable because of the flight of the reigning princes and ruling classes, found a totally unprepared people whose children groped their way as in a fog, robbed of every leader. For centuries the men who signified power and order, who could command respect, had worn uniforms. How, therefore, could obedience be exacted by a State whose President, Ministers and Parliamentary Deputies were conspicuously unmilitary in garb and demeanor? Nay, more: this State did not wish to exact anything; it wanted to educate its young people to become free citizens who would learn to think and to have a share in its affairs. In the first years of the young republic this call was answered only by Democrats and Socialists, while large sections of the nation resentfully stood aside.

As the new democracy, weighted down by the yoke of the peace pact, could progress only slowly, those who had lost by the revolution quickly succeeded in gathering grounds for hostility to the new regime; and since, at the same time, the new Russian propaganda was constantly increasing, only a few years needed to pass before radicals arose on both the Left and the Right and made the new State appear ludicrous in the eyes of youth.

Young people believe everything that sounds plausible and is drummed into them with banners, emblems, songs and slogans; accordingly, the youth that has been growing up in the last five years is passionately eager to snatch at any form of power that might replace the vanished authority of their fathers' day. As both men and women have the vote in the new Germany at the age of 21, all parties hurl themselves upon the youth: the result is a veritable battle for the hearts and ballots of the 9,000,000 young people between 14 and 21, 7,000,000 of whom are already earning their own livelihood. In addition, we have 11,000,000 young voters ranging in age from 21 to 30 years, so that today the youth of Germany comprises a third of the nation and half of the actual voting population. The entire present and future depend on these young people's point of view.

•   •   •

Common to all of them is a tendency toward radicalism. We are badly off today, hence we must summon up all our energies—then things will be better. Both radical wings have connections with foreign forms and theories—the Communists with Moscow, the Fascists with Rome. Both parties have remained spiritually dependent upon their foreign prototypes, whose fathers, curiously enough, were Germans: Marx and Nietzsche, whose theories were written in German and absorbed and modified by Russia and Italy, to come back home to Germany now in familiar form to meet with great misunderstanding.

The youth of both parties has been completely militarized, wearing uniform suits, shirts and belts, carrying uniform flags. Their marching songs, heard without words, might be confused; they differ only in the text, the adherents of one group vowing that they intend to free their class through the Red International, the others calling upon the German people to shake off the yoke of the foe. Whether a young man stands on the Right or the Left is purely fortuitous in thousands of cases; but both parties are decidedly opposed to the pacifists—with this difference: that the Communists wish to prepare for a "last war," that against the exploiters, while the German Fascists laud war as education to virility, and sneeringly label as cowardice everything bound up with the League of Nations or reconciliation.

The 1,000,000 young people who are being trained in the youth clubs of both parties are distinguished by rigid organization and discipline, in the evenings, on their hikes and during their inspections, in their woodland camps complete with tents and cooking utensils, they recover all the thrills they miss by the absence of military conscription. Then there is the inborn German yearning for romance, of which these laborers, mechanics and clerks are deprived by day in their roaring factories and dull workshops. The constant complaints that they hear from every side—the wretchedness of nearly 1,000,000 unemployed young people, the lamentations of their parents as they recall the good old times before the war, the thick veil of mist that obscures the future—all this is forgotten, or at least more easily borne, when, as free and equal members of a political society, in speeches or demonstrations, they can promise one another a splendid future and vehemently execrate the foe within or without.

This military pastime of our youth had no need of the additional stimulus of being forbidden; the love of it lies in the German's blood, and when political pretexts are dispensed with it becomes a passion for sport. The thousands of sport clubs that came into being after the war were to be viewed from abroad not as the menace of a covert army but rather as a diversion from militarism; for prior to the war it was unknown in our country that one could achieve prominence and even world fame through physical deeds without a uniform and without a State. If the sport sections of the British or American press have doubled in size, more or less, since the war, they have increased tenfold here.

•   •   •

The fact that German sport teams have taken part in international tournaments gives proof of their passionate ambition to show the world what Germans can do. For the mood of these young people is the injured pride of the sons of defeated fathers. Thus have they been trained by the class consciousness of the Communists and the nationalism of the Fascists. The latter particularly feel the need of finding casuistic excuses for themselves when they go to, say, Paris for a football game.

Between the huge organizations of the radical youth stand the societies of the moderates, who include the Catholic Centre, the remains of the Democrats and especially the Social-Democrats. These too are held together by discipline and emblems—but their manifestos proscribe war and aim at reconciliation. It is to these groups that we owe the pacifist books whose fame resounds throughout the world. The numerical size of these youth associations cannot be stated definitely, but it is certain that they comprise a minority in comparison with the radical groups of the Right and the Left. Small wonder—for here thought is needed, while the radicals demand only sentiment and faith. Young people are not alone in rushing more eagerly to the places where hopes are aroused and battles are conjured up in verse and imagery than to the seats of moderation—which never did satisfy the youth.

Then there is the tragic division between the two branches of Christianity, the feud that for four centuries has cost so much German life and spiritual energy. True, religious piety has declined greatly among the German youth, as everywhere, since the war. When recently 4,000 boys and girls were asked to write down their opinion of God their answers made the ministers' hair stand on end. One boy wrote, "I have been badly off since childhood; my father fell in battle, my mother is dead; how can I believe that there is a God?" A girl said, "I think churches look very pretty in the country, but when I see one in Berlin it makes me laugh." And some dozens of young bricklayers expressed their disbelief in the existence of God in language so vigorous that it cannot be reproduced here.

But when it comes to fighting a Protestant youth group the Catholic clubs wax caustic, and vice versa. Even in the programs of the youth great political unions frequently are wrecked because of this hereditary antagonism which no one really feels any longer. However, it is the Protestants of Germany who suffer by far the greater loss of believers: in the decade 1918-28 almost 2,000,000 of this creed's followers left the Church, and it is stated that 35 per cent of all the Deputies in the Reichstag no longer are affiliated with any Christian Church.
Campaigners hold signs in front of a polling station in Berlin on election day, July 31, 1932 (source)
Politics and sports being set aside, what elements of idealism remain in the heart of a young German? Have the oppressive wretchedness of his life, the constant uncertainty of his existence, left him no energy for ideals? The answer to this question would have to be skeptical even if its scope were widened to the international. In their realism the Germans are no worse than all the rest of the youth of our time.

The purest note of German idealism has unfortunately grown almost silent. Music, which formerly carried this most musical people of the globe high above its workaday cares, grows less and less audible. No better proof that the World War was not really a national war in Germany can be adduced than the absence of songs such as were born of other German wars. But even all the ecstatic enthusiasm and vindictiveness that resounds from the parades of the millions of young Hitlerites, or Fascists, has remained tuneless—the very song that they sing has been borrowed from Italy. On their hiking tours these youths sometimes play the mandolin or the lute and sing some of the beautiful old songs. But the two divine images that watched over the German century, Goethe and Beethoven, appear clouded over: the youth no longer knows them; indeed, Goethe is rejected by the young Fascists as an international spirit and by the Communists as a so-called aristocrat. (There are only a few hundred of us in Germany who know today that a revival of Goethe is due within the next thirty years.)

In addition, the radicals of both wings lack thinkers and poets who might lead them; all those who produce significant literary or artistic works in Germany today stand on the side of international peace. The Fascists have a gifted poet in Ernst Jünger, who with great imaginativeness and genuine fervor depicts war as an ideal, as it was long ago in the age of the lansquenets.

Yet there is no word which the German youth uses more often and with greater ardor than the word leadership. Not that, as one might expect from an ambitious younger generation, each wishes to be a leader; no, the common desire is to be led. Since the old hereditary leaders with their crowns and scepters vanished so ignominiously the young German, accustomed as he is to obedience, wants a leadership that rises by its own power. Princes and kings are partly forgotten, partly condemned. All, including the Hitlerite youth, demand leaders who come from the people; and this demand represents a profound, historically significant revolution in the German spirit. Thus, in fact, everything would seem ready for a dictatorship, which essentially would be better suited to the German character than to the Italian.

Nothing is missing except a leader. However, there must be some deep-lying reasons why he does not appear; or, if he does, only in a man like Hitler, that caricature of Mussolini. Many a one who might have achieved leadership, as, for example, General von Seeckt in 1924, did not dare take it over at the deciding moment. I conclude that the centuries have implanted the sense of order and subordination so deep in the German soul that no one has the hardihood to attempt to reach the highest rung at a single bound. The centuries so habituated the military mind to a pyramid with the king at its apex, the supporting blocks rested undisturbed upon one another for so long, that the law of inertia still keeps them where they have been used to lie and only a few have the courage to issue commands on their own. As for the Communists, their dearth of eminent leaders is particularly pronounced. Those German statesmen who have emerged—as, for example, Stresemann or Rathenau—have understood that radical modes of speech can only provoke the powerful foe, and not defeat him.

The confusion is all the greater because the two natural seats of authority, the Church and the family, have lost their power almost entirely. Since the children of middle-class families—whose sons formerly were permitted to study for years, whose daughters used to wait at home until their marriage—now have to support themselves by the time they are 18, they have become as brothers and sisters to their parents, engage in love affairs on their own responsibility, often marry early, divorce quickly and remarry, all without any deep feeling. A remarkable lucidity and coldness which deprive our modern youth of the most precious ecstasies have done away with all amazement and introduced public discussion of the most delicate subjects. One is thunderstruck at the objectivity with which young girls in their clubs or journals discuss problems whose charm lies in their cloak and silence. These girls are proud of that objectivity, and write actual volumes in which they set forth that they no longer need books.

•   •   •

Opposed to this decided lack of personal ardor which characterizes all groups of young Germans is a tendency to romanticism that dominates them more than the youth of other nations. To satisfy this yearning they sacrifice much, especially money—for our boys are by no means avaricious. The poverty of the country and the age, the competition of gainfully employed women force them to go to work early and prevent thousands of students from completing their studies; other thousands reach the founts of knowledge only by means of the most rigorous deprivation, and deserve our sincere admiration. But even the poorest of them pay dues in their clubs, save up for a sport shirt in the prescribed colors, eating dry bread the while; one hears touching details of the willingness to help others found among those who themselves have nothing.

All their longing for organization in groups indicates the genuinely German desire to restore, by uniting on a small scale, a sort of order in their division into a thousand different points of view; at the same time, their finest impulses are developed in the atmosphere of esprit de corps. Never before has German youth had so much esprit de corps as now; though the various parties fight one another to the bitter end they still believe with holy ardor in the justice of their several causes, and within their groups hold together with unswerving loyalty.

This has also become evident through the so-called Vehmic murders, whose idealistic trend is indubitable. A romantic circle is formed for the purpose of destroying the wicked Communists or the wicked Jews or the wicked Hitlerites; the State, the story goes, is too weak to take care of this—we must do it ourselves. Thereupon solemn vows are exchanged, lists are drawn up of opposing party leaders marked out for death, and groups numbering about a hundred feel strong enough to break the Versailles pact. A factor here is the memory of 1813, when students and schoolboys were the first to determine upon throwing off the yoke of Napoleon; in their fanatic enthusiasm these young men overlook the profound difference between the two situations and eras. When a member of such a group then gives away the secret, warning the victim or advising the police, his comrades show no mercy but kill him at once—and in a way we can sympathize with his murderers when they feel themselves to be heroes. The business becomes disgusting only when these young condottieri turn out to be decadent analysts and, like one of Rathenau's assassins, describe in 500 pages, for the sum of five marks, the motives that impelled their deed. Since even our murderers have taken up autobiographic writing public interest has once more turned in the direction of their victims.

Germany's youth, which feels that its sense of honor has been affronted, wants to shake off the heritage of its fathers—an aim that will be immediately understood even abroad. Today its ways are confused and divided, parties fight one another. While the old leaders are derided no great young leaders have been produced so far. The young people are willing to carry their share of the country's work and poverty; but they must be given back that security and order which the German character needs and whose lack is solely responsible for the senseless conspiracies in which they are entangled.

Love having lost its romance, the State its power of conferring showy gifts, art its attraction, only sports remaining to feed the ambition of youth, the young people of Germany would grow even more calm and prudent even today if the world would restore to them the feeling of complete equality which their quite innocent generation may demand from even the bitterest foe of yesterday. Even today the finest German still is romantic by nature, as his poetry and music tell us, and even today he will accept payment in intangible values if they are accompanied by a cordial clasp of the hand.