Walker and Hitler and Stalin, Oh My!

The Left has been making considerable hay of late comparing Governor Walker of Wisconsin (and by extension, the Right) to Hitler and Stalin, accusing them of following in their footsteps by trying to destroy unions. This argument, in both cases is both misplaced and, as is usually the case in political rants of this type, overly facile.

Hitler, arguing in 1933, that, after all the NSDAP was a “workers’ party,” replaced the old Weimar unions with a congress of workers called the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, the German Workers’ Front, an institution that represented all National Socialist trade workers and simultaneously required that all trade workers become party members. Old Weimar trade union contracts and agreements were continued and even improved in the workers’ interests. Collective bargaining by individual trade unions was replaced with annual congresses in which workers’ interests and needs were addressed and workers’ goals were given full government support. Under the new arrangement, employers could demand more from their employees in order to further the goals of the state, but workers were given higher wages, job security, more uniform hours and holidays, better retirement (at partial state expense) and, of course all of the benefits of the German National Socialist health and hygiene system, including paid vacations, health and medical benefits and euthanasia when the worker had worn out his welcome. Generally speaking, the DAF was popular and well supported by German workers, and was also a prime means of moving workers into the German National Socialist Workers’ Party. 

The German National Socialist Party held as a primary goal the creation of a classless German society—a national socialist state. Not surprisingly, the DAF was socialist in most respects. While DAF membership was theoretically voluntary, it became increasingly more difficult to find work that did not require membership. Germany became a closed shop. In short, Hitler didn’t so much abolish unions as squeeze them together to make one big one, sponsored and in lock step with the Führer and the Nazi Party.

So, maybe the comparison of Walker with Hitler is a non-starter. How about Stalin’s treatment of unions? The trade unions in the Leninist Soviet Union were an integral part of the Revolution and of the Soviet Communist governmental system. After all, the unions represented the working class, and the working class was the focus of Communist thought and ideology. Trade unions became, under Lenin, simply an extension of the Communist Party. As in the case of Hitler, Lenin essentially nationalized trade unions into a ruling communist elite. 

After Lenin’s power began to wane, a controversy over unions grew up between Stalin and Trotsky. the latter wanted fully to nationalize the unions in a more radical direction: placing them under direct state control in order to make “national progress” more easily. He argued that workers had nothing to fear from a “workers’ state,” and that the production of Soviet workers should be harnessed to the needs of the people. I rather doubt that American union labor would be particularly interested in Trotsky’s model. In the Ninth Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Trotsky stated that:

such a regime under which each worker feels himself to be a soldier of labor who cannot freely dispose of himself; if he is ordered transferred, he must execute that order; if he does not do so, he will be a deserter who should be punished. Who will execute this? The trade union. It will create a new regime. That is the militarization of the working class.

Stalin was able to defeat Trotsky’s policy of “militarization” of Soviet workers.

Under Stalin, labor unions continued to exist in the Soviet Union as part of the apparatus of the Soviet government, which was, after all, a workers’ government. As the Communist Party controlled the political state, so it controlled the unions, just as it controlled industry, agriculture, and everything else in the Soviet economy. Trade unions existed under very tight Party controls. Unions were represented in the Party and the Party was effectively all of the government that existed under the complete control of Joseph Stalin. 

As any good “community organizer” can tell us today, militant trade unions are the vehicle of class struggle, and the last thing that Stalin needed in his Soviet Union was class struggle. The state decided, through central planning and local commissars, what workers would earn, as well as where workers would work and live, and what they would produce. Of course these decisions were made for all sectors of the economy through the nationalization of industry and the collectivization of agriculture. Nevertheless, unions continued to exist as an integral part of the Communist Party—the party putatively of the workers.

Of course, in both of these states that were devoted to the working masses, civil servants were part of the party apparatus rather than trade unions, and the parties—the NSDAP in the case of Germany, and the Communist Party in Russia—took care of their own. In both regimes, party members had social, economical and political privileges that transcended those of the workers in whose name they functioned, in much the same fashion that American public workers are favored today. So, perhaps, the accusations that have been leveled at the governors and legislatures that are trying to curb public unions might more realistically be aimed at the union leadership and political party that is making those accusations. If anything, what Walker is trying to do is break the connection between the political party and the public sector workers that helped to create and sustain the apparatus of control of both the Nazi and the Soviet states.

Benjamin Price