It is not easy to give the foreigner a true picture of the State Labour Service, because this is a National Socialist scheme based upon conditions such as exist in Germany only. If English readers are to form a proper judgment of it, they must first of all know something of the premises upon which its development depended.
The State Labour Service has to fulfil two great tasks, entrusted to it by the Labour Service Law, namely, an economic and an educational one.
Let us deal first of all with its economic aspect. Even before 1914 Germany was an over-populated country. By the Versailles Treaty, she lost 9.5 per cent. of her population and 13 per cent. of her area – a loss which made the pressure of over-population still greater. Moreover, the districts thus separated contained the richest agricultural land of the Reich. In this way was lost 18 per cent. of the area under potatoes and 17 per cent. of that under rye, the percentages for other products being similar. When it is remembered that Germany’s defeat in the War was ultimately due to famine, it is not difficult to realise how terrible it was for her to have to yield up twice as much of her crop bearing area as corresponds to the loss of population. Germany thus lost her chance of being self-supporting in the way of food, and as long as a people depends upon others for essential commodities, it cannot be said to be truly free. Independence in this domain is of vital importance to the freedom of every State.
It was, therefore, quite natural that Herr Hitler, the Führer and Chancellor, should desire to provide himself, as soon as he had taken up office, with an instrument that would help him to make Germany self-supporting once more. The instrument chosen for that purpose was the Reich Labour Service.
Colonel (now Reich Labour Leader) Hierl, to whom supreme command of the Labour Service was given, did not start upon his duties without sound preparation. In 1929 he had already laid before the Führer his plans for the development of a Labour Service and had received Herr Hitler’s approval. From that time onwards, he carefully worked out all the details and took all the steps required to establish a National Socialist Labour Service. Although membership was to be voluntary at first, it was to become a national duty for all Germans later on.
The outcome of that preparatory work was that the Reich Labour Leader, who had surrounded himself with a staff of efficient co-operators, arrived at the following conclusions, namely:
We have in Germany large areas of waste or insufficiently cultivated land that could be used for growing crops. Some 2,000,000 acres could be converted into arable land and more than 2,500,000 acres of poor soil could be made to yield far better crops than is the case now if subjected to improvement. In addition to this, there are another 1,000,000 acres, including waste forests, that could also be made profitable. All in all, this amounts to some 5,000,000 acres – an area as large as the Prussian province of Westphalia or Schleswig-Holstein. It is, therefore, no exaggeration on the part of Colonel Hierl when he continually emphasises that the State Labour Service is capable of adding a whole province to the present area of the Reich.
It is actually true that the Labour Service, when it has carried through the programme at present laid down for it, will have provided Germany, within half the span of a man’s life, with sufficient agricultural land to ensure an adequate food supply for the whole country. German food independence will then have been won.
The results hitherto achieved by the Labour Service in making the countryside fruitful show that these statements are no illusions. An area the size of the Saar district was cleared and made ready for cultivation between 1933 and 1935.
So much for the economic point of view; we will now briefly examine the educational aspect of the Labour Service.
In this connection it is necessary to remember that all civilised countries, since the coming of the Machine Age, have greatly suffered from the erection of certain social barriers. Briefly, populations have been divided into two great classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat. The bourgeoisie adopted, for the most part, a Liberal Capitalism which amounted practically to a recognition of the principle that “those who have may do as they please,” to which the proletariat replied by asserting that “possession is theft.” It must be clear to all unprejudiced persons that both these ideas will finally lead to anarchy and Bolshevism. However, the development of all civilised countries has shown that this recognition is lacking, although the troubles from which all have suffered – some more and some less – are largely attributable to these class differences.
Germany, because of her historical development and, above all, because of her rapid transition from an agricultural to an industrial country, suffered from class quarrels in their extremist form, the position being aggravated by her loss of the War and the resultant Weimar system of government. When the Führer attained power, he was faced with the fact that the German people were divided into two sections neither of whom – though using the German language – could understand the other. Indeed, they were even prepared to fight one another to the death. The Führer and his movement succeeded in achieving the impossible by putting an end to class hatred.
Herr Hitler then instructed the Labour Service to be an instrument by which the lack of vision of the bourgeoisie and the class hatred of the proletariat should be counteracted, and a true community of all Germans should be created. On the National Labour Day, May 1st, 1934, when speaking on the Tempelhof Field, he declared:
It is not a mere chance that the party representing class war and class division fought so bitterly against compulsory Labour Service. They lived by the destruction of the nation and it would not have served their purpose to see these divisions set aside. They therefore told the masses that the Labour Service was designed only to steal the labour from the labourer. They had no Labour Service: instead, they had six million unemployed. We have introduced Labour Service and we have reduced the number of unemployed by more than half. We do not want the Labour Service to take the worker away from his place. In view of the number of employed people and the number enrolled in the Labour Service, such an assertion would be ridiculous. But we do want the Labour Service to compel every young German to work with his hands at least once and thus to contribute to the progressive development of his people. Above all, we want those Germans who are in sedentary occupations to learn what manual work means, so that they may find understanding and sympathy for those of their comrades whose lives are spent in the fields, the factory or the workshop. We want to destroy the haughtiness with which, unfortunately, so many intellectuals look down upon the manual workers and we wish them to realise that they, too, will be worth all the more if they possess a certain capacity for physical work. The whole idea underlying the Labour Service is to promote understanding between all classes and thus to strengthen the spirit of national solidarity. We desire that all should learn to know each other so that, little by little, the natural basis may be formed of a true inward fellowship, a fellowship which was destroyed in the course of many centuries. National Socialism is inspired with the irrevocable determination to re-establish it. We all know, however, that this cannot be achieved by mere words or professions, but only by a new kind of education.
This may be said to be a rough description of the principles in accordance with which Colonel Hierl has led the Reich Labour Service.
We will now briefly describe how the educational task of the Service is approached. It comprises physical culture as well as intellectual instruction, the latter having a deliberately National Socialist tendency.
Physical education is designed to improve the entire physique of the worker, and especially to give him suppleness of limb. The successes attained in this direction are already considerable. Last summer I conducted two delegations of officers of high rank, sent to Germany by two important Powers, round some of our camps and showed them what our Service was doing in the way of physical culture. What they saw aroused their astonishment and admiration, although both delegations came from countries which pay great attention to the physical well-being of their populations. “This is undoubtedly a peak achievement,” was the comment of a General Staff officer who is an expert, not only in his own country, but who is intimately acquainted with these matters in three other European countries. I can assure everyone that the Reich Labour Service is firmly determined to maintain that superiority, because it is of enormous importance to the health of our people that our young manhood should undergo this physical education.
Then there is the intellectual education, which is National Socialism’s appeal to hearts and heads alike. This teaching is not given in class-rooms, but rather consists in the actual conduct of life and work in the camp. Experience is the thing that chiefly matters, whilst the instruction in political science is only an accessory. Even this knowledge is not imparted by the methods of the class-room or the barracks, but rather in the form of a kind of labour comradeship, by means of which the Labour Service Leader puts all matters in so simple and comprehensible a way that they are bound to make an impression. The young workers’ heads are not stuffed with knowledge (which they would, in any case, rapidly forget afterwards), but they are made to understand more intuitively what our Leader desires and what is the meaning of the National Socialist battle for the people and the State.
The young people live together in their camps, far from the big cities, and break German ground with their spades, so that members of all classes – workers, officers, farmers and salesmen – get to know one another and to respect one another’s feelings. In our camps, class distinctions are overcome by the facts of experience. Elsewhere, leading articles are written deriding class struggles, but we abolish them with the aid of the spade and thanks to the community spirit naturally growing up in the Labour Camps. Here the son of middle-class parents learns that the labourer’s son is worth just as much as he, whilst the labourer learns to value the student as a true comrade. The most valuable lesson, however, thus learnt by them is that all work, whether done by the hand or the brain, is equally honourable if performed by decent people for decent purposes. Labour Service has, therefore, provided a new set of practical ethics which is above both the bourgeois and proletarian way of thought, and supersedes both of them. In our camps, the conception “bourgeoisie” meets with just as much ridicule as the conception” proletariat,” for every member looks upon himself as a German, and nothing else. There can be no doubt that the work now done under the inspiring leadership of Colonel Hierl is of so great an importance to future generations that it can hardly be realised by us, and this is certainly recognised – even if not fully – by the many people who visit us from abroad. We appreciate their admiration, but we must remind them that our Labour Service is not something that can simply be reproduced elsewhere. This, therefore, is what we always point out to foreign commissions wishing to study the Labour Service:
The worst mistake you could make would be the attempt to copy what we have done. Our Labour Service is essentially German, and is based exclusively upon our home needs and our own sense of values. In these matters, each nation must follow the paths laid down by its own needs and its peculiar instincts, because the conditions and circumstances that have to be dealt with are different in each case. From us you can learn only one thing, and that is that the social disintegration from which nearly all countries are suffering cannot be overcome by writing leading articles or by speech-making, but only by means of action. This, and this only, can be learnt from the German Labour Service. Organisation and development must be evolved separately in each country.
In this the Reich Labour Service resembles National Socialism: it is not an international affair, but simply a German one. So German is it that, to the astonishment of the rest of the world, the young German girls will shortly be drawn into a compulsory Labour Service. They, of course, will not handle spades, but will perform woman’s work, for the women of Germany are also to learn that no higher lot can be theirs than to work for their nation in the home, at the cooking-stove and amongst their children.
Thus the Reich Labour Service teaches all young Germans to be of use to their country.