Berlin transport strike

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Communist Walter Ulbricht speaking in 1931; Nazi Joseph Goebbels is seated at the front left. The pair organized the transport strike the following year.[1]
Picketing during the strike: Nazi NSBO member on the left and Communist RGO member on the right.

The Berlin transport strike was a massive transportation strike in 1932 engineered by the Nazi Party (NSDAP) (with Adolf Hitler's approval[2]) and Communist Party (KPD),[1][3][4] more specifically the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization (NSBO) and Revolutionary Union Opposition (RGO) respectively.[5] Although rank-and-file members of both extremist parties' paramilitary units were prone to assaulting one another in streets, the upper hierarchies jointly organized a syncretic labor front which culminated in the transport strike.[6]

During 1932, no political party in Germany held majority control, with the Nazis holding a plurality, while Social Democrats (SPD) came second and the Communists third.[7] The Communists faced the option of either forming an alliance with the SPD, their long-hated allies who they branded as "Social Fascists," to overthrow the Nazi Party, or riskily form a syncretic front with the NSDAP, whom they viewed as more revolutionary. This viewpoint was concurred by the KPD leader Ernst Thälmann, who viewed the SPD as not being "true democrats."[8] On the orders of Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin,[9] the German Communists favored the second approach and joined hands with the Nazis.[7] Even prior to the implementation of the transportation strike, Communists formed grassroots cooperation with Nazis, largely out of mutual antipathy towards the more moderate SPD, and discussed strikes against wage cuts.[10]

Several days prior to the German elections of November 1932, the transportation strike was coordinated by leaders of the NSDAP and KPD. The paramilitary wings of both parties, the Sturmabteilung and rotfronters respectively, "paralyzed public transportation for five days, dug up tram tracks, picketed, beat up those who came to work, and used force to stop the cars that the authorities managed to put to work."[7] The rioters reportedly fought police side-by-side.[4][11] Joseph Goebbels, who eventually became Hitler's propaganda minister, gloated in his diary that "not a single streetcar or subway train is operating in Berlin."[8]

During the time period, Berlin was typically supportive of the SPD due to its pro-labor stance; however, the Social Democrats refused to support the radical strike,[12] and lost crucial support in the November 1932 elections; the Nazis (as well as Social Democrats) lost seats which were picked up by the Communists.[8][13] The Nazis, due to their open collaboration with the Communists, subsequently became viewed as Marxists[2] and otherwise "Bolsheviks."[14][15]

Although the Communist Party at this point could have formed a coalition with Social Democrats to defeat the Nazi Party, they refused to do so.[13] The SPD lost its coalition control of the Weimar government, and subsequent political violence and intimidation by the Nazis led to Hitler's power ascension in 1933. Afterwards, when the KPD as a party was being suppressed once Hitler seized power, "many of [the Communists] went over to the Nazis."[6]

The strike has been referred to as "Nazis and Kozis against democracy."[11]

Quotes about the strike

I grew up with the strike. Never, my father told me when I was still quite young, stand on a picket line with Nazis. My mother explained: ‘Wouldn't you believe it, there were Nazi pickets standing alongside the Communist pickets during the transport strike. The Communists allowed that to happen. Can you believe it?’

—witness account by Siegfried "Siegi" Moos, a KPD member[16]

November 3, at 4 A.M. on the eve of the elections, the strike wave culminated in the great Berlin transportation strike. Communists and Nazis stood shoulder to shoulder in the picket lines, in the raiding squads and in the action committees. Chancellor von Papen threatened martial law and the calling out of the Reichswehr. The National Socialists and the Communist Party countered with an armed concentration of their brigades in the environs and the suburbs of Berlin. The strike continued, dominating the election of November.

—account of Richard Julius Hermann Krebs, another KPD member[17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dallas, Gregor (2005). 1945: The War that Never Ended, p. 376. Google Books. Retrieved December 15, 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kershaw, Ian (1998). Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  3. Rabinbach, Anson; Gilman, Sander (2013). The Third Reich Sourcebook, p. 841. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  4. 4.0 4.1 James, C. L. R. (1937). World Revolution, 1917–1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  5. Feuchtwanger, Edgar J. (1993). From Weimar to Hitler: Germany, 1918-33, p. 297. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Edwards, Lee (November 1999). The Collapse of Communism, p. 58. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Suvorov, Viktor (2013). The Chief Culprit: Stalin's Grand Design to Start World War II. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Brysac, Shareen Blair (2000). Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  9. Conquest, Robert (1968). The Great Terror: A Reassessment, p. 195. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  10. Fischer, Conan. (1991). The German Communists and the Rise of Nazism. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  11. 11.0 11.1 July 11, 2012. Eighty years ago: When the BVG went on strike. Exberliner. Retrieved December 15, 2022.
  12. Moncure, Billy (September 28, 2018). How Communists in Germany Allied with Nazis to Destroy Democracy. War History Online. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Seton-Watson, Hugh (1953). The Pattern of Communist Revolution: An Historical Analysis. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  14. Bullock, Alan (1962). Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, pp. 229–32. Internet Archive. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  15. McKenzie, John Richard Philip (1971). Weimar Germany, 1918-1933, p. 238. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  16. Moos, Merilyn (October 31, 2014). Beaten But Not Defeated: Siegfried Moos - A German Anti-Nazi who Settled in Britain. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  17. Krebs, Richard Julius Hermann (1940). Out of the Night. Google Books. Retrieved December 12, 2022.