For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Soldiers of Labor: Labor Service in Nazi Germany and New Deal America, 1933-1945

by Patel, Kiran Klaus (2005)


Originally published in 2005, Soldiers of Labor is a systematic comparison between the labor policies of the Nazi dictatorship and New Deal America. The main subject of the book is the Nazi Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst), a public work scheme that provided work and education for young men. Here, the organizational setup, the educational dimension, and its practical work are extensively examined. Originally, the institution was an instrument in the fight against unemployment at the end of the Weimar Republic. After 1933, it became a Nazi propaganda tool that ultimately became involved in the Nazi's war of extermination. This study examines the similarities and differences, the mutual perceptions, and transfers between the Nazi Labor Service and its New Deal equivalent, the Civilian Conservation Corps. Patel uncovers stunning similarities between the two organizations, as well as President Roosevelt's irritating personal interest in the Nazi equivalent of his pet agency, the CCC.

Key Passage

The Labor Service also failed to respond to a much more elaborate and polished intellectual offering. In his 1932 book Der Arbeiter(The Worker), Ernst J ̈unger had interpreted the age in which he was living as the transition from the disintegrating bourgeois society to the rule of the worker. He de-manded labor conscription as the “morning gift [Morgengabe] of the worker to the state.” It was to be the successor to general military conscription and should assume the latter’s role with respect to “education, penetration, anduniform discipline.” Moreover, J ̈unger wanted to do away with the “silly arrogance” of regarding manual labor as inferior. Unlike traditional militaryconscription, this new form of service would be expected of “not only malescapable of bearing arms, but the entire population.”149 There  are  important  links  between  J ̈unger’s  concept  and  the  NationalSocialist Labor Service, and it may be surprising that Hierl failed also to pickup the suggestions of this writer and bearer of the Pour le m ́erite medal, espe-cially since the two men had been personally acquainted since the1920s.150J ̈unger, similar to Hierl’s organization and like Hitler in Mein Kampf,uni-versalized the type of the worker and combined it with a revaluation of manual labor. Militarization and an orientation toward a future war are also found in his book. The fact that the Labor Service literature after1933did not refer to him in spite of this, had to do with the author’s past asa member of the Stahlhelm and with his difficult attitude toward National Socialism. Most especially, however, J ̈unger did not make a sharp distinction between labor conscription and a general duty to work. That ran counter to Hierl’s definition and program – even though the Reich Labor Leader him-self later sought to potentially abolish that distinction through the projectof the National Auxiliary Service (Nationaler Hilfsdienst). Moreover, it was difficult to derive any real connection between J ̈unger’s aestheticizing, vi-sionary  ideas  and  the  harsh  labor  in  such  a  service.  Finally,  for  J ̈unger,as for Heidegger, the state was the reference point, and not – as with the Nazis – theVolk. These are the reasons why Der Arbeiter did not become the Bible of the Labor Service. However, J ̈unger found a thorough reader of his work in Heidegger, whose own notions about the labor service were directly influenced by J ̈unger. (p.329)


Heidegger, Nazi, National Socialism, Nazi Labor Service, Education, New Deal


On Jünger, On Heidegger

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