Know Your Enemy: Hitler’s First Encounter with Trade Unions and Social Democracy (Socialism)

This is the first of several excerpts I intend to post from Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, the fascist bible. You have to know your enemy in order to defeat him. These ideas are still very much alive today, but in many cases have just been repackaged a bit. As you read these passages from “Mein Kampf” see if any of this starts to sound familiar. When you hear people like Alex Jones and others talk about “globalists” and a New World Order or Illuminati conspiracy to take over the world, you will know where these ideas come from and that, like Hitler before them, these fascists use populist language to try to disguise the most reactionary worldview.

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle. – Sun Tzu

Let’s heed the wisdom of Sun Tzu and know our enemies as well as ourselves. – PC

From the very time that I started work the situation was not very pleasant for me. My
clothes were still rather decent. I was careful of my speech and I was reserved in
manner. I was so occupied with thinking of my own present lot and future possibilities
that I did not take much of an interest in my immediate surroundings. I had sought
work so that I shouldn’t starve and at the same time so as to be able to make further
headway with my studies, though this headway might be slow. Possibly I should not
have bothered to be interested in my companions were it not that on the third or fourth
day an event occurred which forced me to take a definite stand. I was ordered to join
the trade union.

At that time I knew nothing about the trades unions. I had had no opportunity of
forming an opinion on their utility or inutility, as the case might be. But when I was told
that I must join the union I refused. The grounds which I gave for my refusal were
simply that I knew nothing about the matter and that anyhow I would not allow myself
to be forced into anything. Probably the former reason saved me from being thrown out
right away. They probably thought that within a few days I might be converted’ and
become more docile. But if they thought that they were profoundly mistaken. After two
weeks I found it utterly impossible for me to take such a step, even if I had been willing
to take it at first. During those fourteen days I came to know my fellow workmen better,
and no power in the world could have moved me to join an organization whose
representatives had meanwhile shown themselves in a light which I found so

During the first days my resentment was aroused.

At midday some of my fellow workers used to adjourn to the nearest tavern, while the
others remained on the building premises and there ate their midday meal, which in
most cases was a very scanty one. These were married men. Their wives brought them
the midday soup in dilapidated vessels. Towards the end of the week there was a
gradual increase in the number of those who remained to eat their midday meal on the
building premises. I understood the reason for this afterwards. They now talked

I drank my bottle of milk and ate my morsel of bread somewhere on the outskirts, while
I circumspectly studied my environment or else fell to meditating on my own harsh lot.
Yet I heard more than enough. And I often thought that some of what they said was meant for my ears, in the hope of bringing me to a decision. But all that I heard had the effect of arousing the strongest antagonism in me. Everything was disparaged–the nation, because it was held to be an invention of the ‘capitalist’ class (how often I had to listen to that phrase!); the Fatherland, because it was held to be an instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of’ the working masses; the authority of the law, because that was a means of holding down the proletariat; religion, as a means of doping the people, so as to exploit them afterwards; morality, as a badge of stupid and sheepish docility. There was nothing that they did not drag in the mud.

At first I remained silent; but that could not last very long. Then I began to take part in
the discussion and to reply to their statements. I had to recognize, however, that this
was bound to be entirely fruitless, as long as I did not have at least a certain amount of
definite information about the questions that were discussed. So I decided to consult the
source from which my interlocutors claimed to have drawn their so-called wisdom. I
devoured book after book, pamphlet after pamphlet.

Meanwhile, we argued with one another on the building premises. From day to day I
was becoming better informed than my companions in the subjects on which they
claimed to be experts. Then a day came when the more redoubtable of my adversaries
resorted to the most effective weapon they had to replace the force of reason. This was
intimidation and physical force. Some of the leaders among my adversaries ordered me
to leave the building or else get flung down from the scaffolding. As I was quite alone I
could not put up any physical resistance; so I chose the first alternative and departed,
richer however by an experience.

I went away full of disgust; but at the same time so deeply moved that it was quite
impossible for me to turn my back on the whole situation and think no more about it.
When my anger began to calm down the spirit of obstinacy got the upper hand and I
decided that at all costs I would get back to work again in the building trade. This
decision became all the stronger a few weeks later, when my little savings had entirely
run out and hunger clutched me once again in its merciless arms. No alternative was
left to me. I got work again and had to leave it for the same reasons as before.

Then I asked myself: Are these men worthy of belonging to a great people? The
question was profoundly disturbing; for if the answer were ‘Yes’, then the struggle to
defend one’s nationality is no longer worth all the trouble and sacrifice we demand of
our best elements if it be in the interests of such a rabble. On the other hand, if the
answer had to be ‘No–these men are not worthy of the nation’, then our nation is poor
indeed in men. During those days of mental anguish and deep meditation I saw before
my mind the ever-increasing and menacing army of people who could no longer be
reckoned as belonging to their own nation.

It was with quite a different feeling, some days later, that I gazed on the interminable
ranks, four abreast, of Viennese workmen parading at a mass demonstration. I stood
dumbfounded for almost two hours, watching that enormous human dragon which
slowly uncoiled itself there before me. When I finally left the square and wandered in
the direction of my lodgings I felt dismayed and depressed. On my way I noticed the
ARBEITERZEITUNG (The Workman’s Journal) in a tobacco shop. This was the chief
press-organ of the old Austrian Social Democracy. In a cheap café, where the common
people used to foregather and where I often went to read the papers, the ARBEITERZEITUNG was also displayed. But hitherto I could not bring myself to do
more than glance at the wretched thing for a couple of minutes: for its whole tone was a
sort of mental vitriol to me. Under the depressing influence of the demonstration I had
witnessed, some interior voice urged me to buy the paper in that tobacco shop and read
it through. So I brought it home with me and spent the whole evening reading it,
despite the steadily mounting rage provoked by this ceaseless outpouring of

I now found that in the social democratic daily papers I could study the inner character
of this politico-philosophic system much better than in all their theoretical literature. For there was a striking discrepancy between the two. In the literary effusions which
dealt with the theory of Social Democracy there was a display of high-sounding
phraseology about liberty and human dignity and beauty, all promulgated with an air
of profound wisdom and serene prophetic assurance; a meticulously-woven glitter of
words to dazzle and mislead the reader. On the other hand, the daily Press inculcated
this new doctrine of human redemption in the most brutal fashion. No means were too
base, provided they could be exploited in the campaign of slander. These journalists
were real virtuosos in the art of twisting facts and presenting them in a deceptive form.
The theoretical literature was intended for the simpletons of the soi-disant intellectuals
belonging to the middle and, naturally, the upper classes. The newspaper propaganda
was intended for the masses.

This probing into books and newspapers and studying the teachings of Social
Democracy reawakened my love for my own people. And thus what at first seemed an
impassable chasm became the occasion of a closer affection.

Having once understood the working of the colossal system for poisoning the popular
mind, only a fool could blame the victims of it. During the years that followed I became
more independent and, as I did so, I became better able to understand the inner cause of
the success achieved by this Social Democratic gospel. I now realized the meaning and
purpose of those brutal orders which prohibited the reading of all books and
newspapers that were not ‘red’ and at the same time demanded that only the ‘red’
meetings should be attended. In the clear light of brutal reality I was able to see what
must have been the inevitable consequences of that intolerant teaching.

The PSYCHE of the broad masses is accessible only to what is strong and
uncompromising. Like a woman whose inner sensibilities are not so much under the
sway of abstract reasoning but are always subject to the influence of a vague emotional
longing for the strength that completes her being, and who would rather bow to the
strong man than dominate the weakling–in like manner the masses of the people prefer
the ruler to the suppliant and are filled with a stronger sense of mental security by a
teaching that brooks no rival than by a teaching which offers them a liberal choice. They
have very little idea of how to make such a choice and thus they are prone to feel that
they have been abandoned. They feel very little shame at being terrorized intellectually
and they are scarcely conscious of the fact that their freedom as human beings is
impudently abused; and thus they have not the slightest suspicion of the intrinsic
fallacy of the whole doctrine. They see only the ruthless force and brutality of its
determined utterances, to which they always submit.


Within less than two years I had gained a clear understanding of Social Democracy, in
its teaching and the technique of its operations.

I recognized the infamy of that technique whereby the movement carried on a
campaign of mental terrorism against the bourgeoisie, who are neither morally nor
spiritually equipped to withstand such attacks. The tactics of Social Democracy
consisted in opening, at a given signal, a veritable drum-fire of lies and calumnies
against the man whom they believed to be the most redoubtable of their adversaries,
until the nerves of the latter gave way and they sacrificed the man who was attacked,
simply in the hope of being allowed to live in peace. But the hope proved always to be a
foolish one, for they were never left in peace.

The same tactics are repeated again and again, until fear of these mad dogs exercises,
through suggestion, a paralysing effect on their Victims.

Through its own experience Social Democracy learned the value of strength, and for
that reason it attacks mostly those in whom it scents stuff of the more stalwart kind,
which is indeed a very rare possession. On the other hand it praises every weakling
among its adversaries, more or less cautiously, according to the measure of his mental
qualities known or presumed. They have less fear of a man of genius who lacks willpower
than of a vigorous character with mediocre intelligence and at the same time
they highly commend those who are devoid of intelligence and will-power.
The Social Democrats know how to create the impression that they alone are the
protectors of peace. In this way, acting very circumspectly but never losing sight of their
ultimate goal, they conquer one position after another, at one time by methods of quiet
intimidation and at another time by sheer daylight robbery, employing these latter
tactics at those moments when public attention is turned towards other matters from which it does not wish to be diverted, or when the public considers an incident too
trivial to create a scandal about it and thus provoke the anger of a malignant opponent.

These tactics are based on an accurate estimation of human frailties and must lead to
success, with almost mathematical certainty, unless the other side also learns how to
fight poison gas with poison gas. The weaker natures must be told that here it is a case
of to be or not to be.

I also came to understand that physical intimidation has its significance for the mass as
well as for the individual. Here again the Socialists had calculated accurately on the
psychological effect.

Intimidation in workshops and in factories, in assembly halls and at mass
demonstrations, will always meet with success as long as it does not have to encounter
the same kind of terror in a stronger form.

Then of course the Party will raise a horrified outcry, yelling blue murder and
appealing to the authority of the State, which they have just repudiated. In doing this
their aim generally is to add to the general confusion, so that they may have a better
opportunity of reaching their own goal unobserved. Their idea is to find among the
higher government officials some bovine creature who, in the stupid hope that he may
win the good graces of these awe-inspiring opponents so that they may remember him
in case of future eventualities, will help them now to break all those who may oppose
this world pest.

The impression which such successful tactics make on the minds of the broad masses,
whether they be adherents or opponents, can be estimated only by one who knows the
popular mind, not from books but from practical life. For the successes which are thus
obtained are taken by the adherents of Social Democracy as a triumphant symbol of the
righteousness of their own cause; on the other hand the beaten opponent very often
loses faith in the effectiveness of any further resistance.

The more I understood the methods of physical intimidation that were employed, the
more sympathy I had for the multitude that had succumbed to it.

I am thankful now for the ordeal which I had to go through at that time; for it was the
means of bringing me to think kindly again of my own people, inasmuch as the
experience enabled me to distinguish between the false leaders and the victims who
have been led astray.

We must look upon the latter simply as victims. I have just now tried to depict a few
traits which express the mentality of those on the lowest rung of the social ladder; but
my picture would be disproportionate if I do not add that amid the social depths I still
found light; for I experienced a rare spirit of self-sacrifice and loyal comradeship among
those men, who demanded little from life and were content amid their modest
surroundings. This was true especially of the older generation of workmen. And
although these qualities were disappearing more and more in the younger generation,
owing to the all-pervading influence of the big city, yet among the younger generation
also there were many who were sound at the core and who were able to maintain
themselves uncontaminated amid the sordid surroundings of their everyday existence.
If these men, who in many cases meant well and were upright in themselves, gave the
support to the political activities carried on by the common enemies of our people, that
was because those decent workpeople did not and could not grasp the downright
infamy of the doctrine taught by the socialist agitators. Furthermore, it was because no
other section of the community bothered itself about the lot of the working classes.
Finally, the social conditions became such that men who otherwise would have acted
differently were forced to submit to them, even though unwillingly at first. A day came
when poverty gained the upper hand and drove those workmen into the Social
Democratic ranks.

On innumerable occasions the bourgeoisie took a definite stand against even the most
legitimate human demands of the working classes. That conduct was ill-judged and
indeed immoral and could bring no gain whatsoever to the bourgeois class. The result
was that the honest workman abandoned the original concept of the trades union
organization and was dragged into politics.

There were millions and millions of workmen who began by being hostile to the Social
Democratic Party; but their defences were repeatedly stormed and finally they had to
surrender. Yet this defeat was due to the stupidity of the bourgeois parties, who had
opposed every social demand put forward by the working class. The short-sighted
refusal to make an effort towards improving labour conditions, the refusal to adopt
measures which would insure the workman in case of accidents in the factories, the
refusal to forbid child labour, the refusal to consider protective measures for female
workers, especially expectant mothers–all this was of assistance to the Social
Democratic leaders, who were thankful for every opportunity which they could exploit
for forcing the masses into their net. Our bourgeois parties can never repair the damage
that resulted from the mistake they then made. For they sowed the seeds of hatred
when they opposed all efforts at social reform. And thus they gave, at least, apparent
grounds to justify the claim put forward by the Social Democrats–namely, that they
alone stand up for the interests of the working class.

And this became the principal ground for the moral justification of the actual existence
of the Trades Unions, so that the labour organization became from that time onwards
the chief political recruiting ground to swell the ranks of the Social Democratic Party.

While thus studying the social conditions around me I was forced, whether I liked it or
not, to decide on the attitude I should take towards the Trades Unions. Because I looked
upon them as inseparable from the Social Democratic Party, my decision was hasty–
and mistaken. I repudiated them as a matter of course. But on this essential question
also Fate intervened and gave me a lesson, with the result that I changed the opinion
which I had first formed.

When I was twenty years old I had learned to distinguish between the Trades Union as
a means of defending the social rights of the employees and fighting for better living
conditions for them and, on the other hand, the Trades Union as a political instrument
used by the Party in the class struggle.

The Social Democrats understood the enormous importance of the Trades Union
movement. They appropriated it as an instrument and used it with success, while the
bourgeois parties failed to understand it and thus lost their political prestige. They
thought that their own arrogant VETO would arrest the logical development of the
movement and force it into an illogical position. But it is absurd and also untrue to say
that the Trades Union movement is in itself hostile to the nation. The opposite is the
more correct view. If the activities of the Trades Union are directed towards improving
the condition of a class, and succeed in doing so, such activities are not against the
Fatherland or the State but are, in the truest sense of the word, national. In that way the
trades union organization helps to create the social conditions which are indispensable
in a general system of national education. It deserves high recognition when it destroys
the psychological and physical germs of social disease and thus fosters the general welfare of the nation.

Source: Mein Kampf (Murphy translation) pp. 39 – 45;


About Prole Center

Inspiring class-consciousness and an educated, strong and militant Working Class
This entry was posted in Class War Chronicle and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Know Your Enemy: Hitler’s First Encounter with Trade Unions and Social Democracy (Socialism)

  1. beetleypete says:

    I remember struggling with this book (and Das Kapital) as a teenager at school. Looking with an adult perspective many years later, it is plain to see how he formulated his ideas (and ideals) and how similar they are to many that still exist around the western world today.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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