The Stennes Revolt was a revolt within the Nazi Party in 1930-1931 led by Walter Stennes (1895–1989), the Berlin commandant of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi's "brownshirt" storm troops. The revolt arose from internal tensions and conflicts within the Nazi Party of Germany, particularly between the party organization headquartered in Munich and Adolf Hitler on the one hand, and the SA and its leadership on the other hand.
The role and purpose of the SA within National Socialism was still unsettled in 1930. Hitler viewed the SA as serving strictly political purposes, a subordinate body whose function was to foster Nazi expansion and development. The SA's proper functions, in Hitler's view, were political ones such as protecting Nazi meetings from disruption by protesters, disrupting meetings of Nazi adversaries, distributing propaganda, recruiting, marching in the streets to propagandize by showing support for the Nazi cause, political campaigning, and brawling with Communists in the streets. He did not advocate the SA's functioning as a military or paramilitary organization.
Many in the SA itself—including the leadership—held a contrary, and more glorious, view of the SA's role. To them, the SA was a nascent military organization: the basis for a future citizen-army on the Napoleonic model, an army which would, ideally, absorb the Reichswehr and displace its outmoded Prussian concepts with "modern" Nazi ideals.
The 1930 elections
The call for elections
Its successor, the Bruening government, was unable to obtain a parliamentary majority for its own financial reform bill, which was rejected by the Reichstag on 16 July 1930. Bruening asked Hindenburg to invoke Article 48 in order to promulgate the bill as an emergency decree. Hindenburg did so and the Reichstag promptly repudiated the bill on 18 July 1930, thereby invalidating the presidential decree under the Constitution. Bruening thereupon asked Hindenburg to dissolve parliament and call for new elections, which were scheduled for 14 September 1930.
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SA demands: August 1930
Members of the SA in Berlin, led by Stennes, had for some time been voicing objections to the policies and purposes of the SA, as those had been defined by Hitler. These SA members saw their organization as a revolutionary group, the vanguard of a national-socialist order that would overthrow the hated Republic by force.
Stennes complained that advancement within the SA was improperly based upon cronyism and favoritism rather than upon merit. He also objected to the general law-abiding approach that Adolf Hitler had adopted after the Beer Hall Putsch, and he and his men chafed under the Hitlerian order to terminate street attacks upon Communists and Jews. The SA also wanted three secure places on the NSDAP list for the upcoming Reichstag elections. In addition, he complained that the SA members under his command were not being paid sufficiently.
The SA had developed a list of seven demands. On 7 August 1930, Joseph Goebbels, the Gauleiter (Nazi regional leader) of Berlin, met with Stennes and other SA officers in Berlin. Stennes demanded the three ballot slots and threatened a "palace revolution" otherwise, claiming that he would resign and take 80% of Berlin SA (some 15,000 men) with him.
Hitler had already heard the SA demands from Franz Pfeffer von Salomon, the SA's supreme commander; had rejected Pfeffer's demands outright, had told him to "get lost" and had called him a "mutineer." Hitler ignored the Stennes initiative and did not grant Stennes an audience when Stennes came to Munich to try to meet with him. The request for the ballot slots was consistently denied.
On 27 August Stennes threatened Goebbels again: he wanted the three Reichstag seats, more money for the SA and more political power in the movement. Hitler again refused to take it seriously. Pfeffer had resigned by this time, and Hitler assured Goebbels would send the SA Chief of Staff, Otto Wagener, to fix things in the SA for Goebbels.
Stennes decided that action was needed to make a statement. Accordingly, the Berlin SA refused to provide protection for Goebbels at his Sportpalast speech on 30 August 1930, and his men paraded instead in Wittenbergplatz, demonstrating against Goebbels. Goebbels turned to the SS, who provided the necessary security and protection at the meeting and who were then assigned to protect the Gau office in Berlin.
The SA then stormed the Gau office on the Hedemannstrasse, injuring the SS men and wrecking the premises. Goebbels was shocked at the extent of the damage done and notified Hitler, who left the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth and flew immediately to Berlin.
Hitler talked to Stennes and to groups of SA the next day, urging them to follow his leadership. He redefined the issue in different and simpler terms: Was the SA entirely loyal to Hitler under the Führerprinzip, or not? Then on the following day, he convened a meeting of some 2000 SA and announced he was personally taking over as Supreme Leader of the SA and SS (thus becoming Partei- und Oberster SA-Führer). The SA cheered and were delighted that their Leader was finally giving them the recognition they felt they deserved. Hitler also had Stennes read a declaration increasing SA funding. A special levy (20 pfennig) would be made on party dues to pay for it.
The crisis was over for the time being. The SA members, it appeared, did not truly want to fight with Hitler or contest his leadership, but only sought treatment that they considered correct in light of their mission and the overall mission of the NSDAP. However, the band-aid applied by Hitler would not suffice to remove the underlying structural issue that conditioned the Party-SA relationship: What was the SA's role and, in particular, what would that role be if the party actually succeeded in gaining the political power it sought?
Spring of 1931
Although he had made himself Supreme Commander of the SA, Hitler had no interest in running the SA; organization and administration bored him, and he had neither interest nor aptitude for them. His talents lay in propaganda and oratory. He summoned Ernst Röhm and offered him effective command of the SA, as its Chief of Staff. Röhm returned to Germany from his self-imposed exile in South America and promptly reorganized the SA, removing control of Silesia from Stennes.
Meanwhile, Stennes continued to complain; he noted that the SA in Breslau were not able to turn out for inspection in February 1931 because they lacked footwear. He also complained about Röhm's return to run the SA, objecting to the Chief of Staff's alleged homosexuality.
Even more troubling, the strategy of taking power by force was advocated by Stennes in February articles published in Der Angriff. This was disturbing to the Nazi leadership as it contravened Hitler's strategy of gaining power through constitutional means only and forswearing violence as a means to power. And Hitler had very publicly announced his "reliance on legality only" in the Leipzig trial of the young Reichswehr officers in September 1930, in perfect timing for the fall elections and with an eye towards the attendant propaganda value, and had sworn on the witness stand and under oath that the party had forsaken violent and illegal means as a path to power.
On 20 February 1931 Hitler issued a decree making the SA subordinate to the party organization at the Gau level. Stennes mildly protested to Röhm by letter, raising also the plight of unemployed SA men. On February 26, Röhm forbade the SA from taking part in street battles and also forbade its leaders from speaking in public.
On 28 March 1931 Brüning, employing Hindenburg's emergency powers under Article 48, issued an emergency degree requiring all political meetings to be registered and requiring all posters and political handouts to be subject to censorship. The decree also delegated wide powers to Brüning to curb "political excesses." Of course, the SA objected to the decree. Nevertheless, Hitler—whose party had recently achieved an astonishing electoral victory in the September 1930 Reichstag elections and whose "policy of legality" appeared to be paying dividends in the economic misery of the depression—ordered strict compliance. Stennes refused.
Expulsion of Stennes
Stennes rebelled again. The SA once again stormed the party offices in Berlin on the night of March 31-April 1 and took physical control of them. In addition, the SA took over the offices of Goebbels' Der Angriff. Pro-Stennes versions of the newspaper appeared on April 1 and 2.
Hitler instructed Goebbels to take whatever means were necessary to put down the revolt. This time, the Berlin police were called to expel the SA intruders from the party's offices.
Goebbels and Göring purged the SA in Berlin and environs. Since all money for SA was dispensed through the Gau headquarters, it was a simple matter to cut this off and the lack of funding caused the rebellion to collapse. Stennes was expelled from the party.
In an article by Hitler in the Völkischer Beobachter he justified Stennes' expulsion, referring to him as a "salon socialist." Hitler's editorial demanded that all SA men choose between Stennes and Hitler, declaring that the mutinous Stennes was a conspirator against National Socialism.
Hitler demonstrated his confidence in the SS by his replacement of Stennes with an SS man. Himmler later commented that "we are his favorites and have never let him down."
Stennes had following among leftist oriented SA in Berlin, Pomerania, Mecklenburg and Silesia. When he left the SA and NSDAP he founded the National Socialist Combat Movement of Germany (Nationalsozialistische Kampfbewegung Deutschlands, NSKD) and made connection with Otto Strasser, as well as Hermann Ehrhard, ex-leader of the defunct Viking League (Bund Wiking). He recruited about 2000 SA men from Berlin and elsewhere along with 2000 Ehrhardt followers, and the leaders protested that the "NSDAP has abandoned the revolutionary course of true national socialism" and will become "just another coalition party."
Aftermath and consequences
Conservative businessmen gained more confidence in Hitler after seeing the repression of the more radical Stennes element and Hitler's attendant adherence to "legality." As Collier notes:
Ironically the Stennes revolt may have assisted the Nazi rise to power, in that more moderate elements in the German right observed Hitler's adherence to his strategy of legality and gained confidence that he was accordingly "law-abiding."
The revolt illustrated Hitler's consistent approach to solving intraparty frictions: resort to the Führerprinzip, rather than address the underlying problems which motivated the tension. Here, those underlying structural problems simply remained dormant for several years, and the inherent tensions between the party and the SA only grew under the able SA leadership of Röhm, whose ambitions certainly were higher than those of Stennes. The real resolution of the Nazi dilemma had to wait until the Reichswehr forced the issue in the summer of 1934, when, with the SA growing restless and Hindenburg on his deathbed, Hitler responded with the murderous Night of the Long Knives. The SS acquired their motto, Meine Ehre heißt Treue, in the aftermath of the incident. Stennes himself escaped retribution. Having left Germany in 1933, he worked as a military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek until 1949, when he returned to Germany. Later it was alleged that he also served as a Soviet agent.
- See generally Toland, pp.248-52; Kershaw, pp.347-51; Machtan, pp.81-83; Read, pp.199-211; Fest, pp.281-82; Lemmons, pp.81-82; and Grant, pp.51-89 for general descriptions of the Stennes Revolt.
- The SA was an "alien" body which had not been integrated into the party in 1930. Mommsen, p.337.
- See e.g. Toland, pp.210-211 (April 1925 conflict between Hitler and Ernst Röhm over proper purpose of SA, leading to Röhm's resignation; p. 220 (Hitler's later selection of Pfeffer von Salomon as SA chief of staff to preside over a legitimate, non-military organization consistent with Hitler's announced "policy of legality" following the Beer Hall Putsch; and pp. 248-251 (tension between SA leaders seeking military function and Hitler's desire for strictly political function).
- Fischer, p.85. Of course this was Röhm's view, both before his 1925 resignation from the party and after his return from South America at Hitler's request to lead the SA in 1931 -- a view which eventually led to his murder in The Night of the Long Knives.
- In the Reichstag election of May 1928, the Nazis had won just 12 seats out of a total of 491. As a consequence, they were only the ninth largest party in the Reichstag, and had less than one-fourth the seats held by the Communists, who made substantial gains in 1928 and who came to control 54 seats through the 1928 election. The parties of the Left (Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Communist Party (KPD)) were the main winners in 1928 and jointly controlled 226 seats as a result of the 1928 elections; if they could jointly muster a coalition of only 246 seats, the coalition would be a parliamentary majority. See 1928 election results. The NSDAP's pitiful showing (less than 3% of the 1928 popular vote) "appeared to confirm the correctness of those commentators who for years had been preaching the end of Hitler and his Movement," Kershaw, p.302. In the cities, the results were awful for the Nazis; in Berlin, the NSDAP received 1.57% of the vote. Kershaw, p.303. Some within the party even came to believe that Hitler would be forced to repudiate his plan to obtain power strictly through legal means, instead of by putsch, and he authorized the Nazi press in June of 1928 to reaffirm his commitment to constitutional procedures as the path to power. Kershaw, p.304.
- Mueller, a Social Democrat, headed the so-called "Grand Coalition," which included members of the SPD (153 seats), German Democratic Party (25 seats), German People's Party (DVP, 45 seats), Catholic Center Party, (Zentrum, 61 seats) and Bavarian People's Party (17 seats). Any combination of 246 seats would create a majority. Kershaw, p.304; Collier, p. 39.
- The coalition parties failed to cope with the issues raised by the Great Depression and by their mutual intransigence, and refusals to compromise, assisted the Weimar Republic in its suicide and facilitated the rise of the Nazis.
The Reich was strained by the obligation, enacted in 1927, to pay a fixed benefit to the unemployed. In 1927 with only 1.3 million unemployed in Germany, the procedure was quite workable; however, when unemployment rose with the depression, the Reich Institution responsible for benefit payment was forced to borrow from the general government, and the debt of some 350 million Reichsmarks by the end of 1929 strained the government's budget.
The SPD wanted to increase the employer contribution from 3.5 to 4.0 percent; the DVP wanted instead to cut benefits; and the Center, trying to make peace, tried to negotiate a compromise wherein all parties would defer consideration of the issue until the autumn of 1930. The SPD refused the Center's proposed deal and the Mueller government was consequently stymied. Mueller, faced with crisis, sought President Paul von Hindenburg's help, asking for power to rule by decree pursuant to Article 48 -- a power that had been granted in 1923 to Chancellor Gustav Stresemann by President Friedrich Ebert in economic crises and that would soon be granted by Hindenburg to each of Mueller's successors as Chancellor. The haughty, aristocratic and thoroughly anti-democratic Hindenburg, having no use for any Social Democrat, refused, having decided earlier to use the opportunity to oust the SPD from its position of power in the government; he relished the chance to have formed an anti-parliamentary and anti-Marxist government. Kershaw p. 323-324. The result was, in accordance with Hindenburg's plan, the appointment of Heinrich Brüning, a Centrist, as Chancellor with no SPD members in his cabinet. Ibid; Collier p. 41.
- The Bruening program generally sought to cut government spending in a time of severe deflation and depression.
- See Article 48 (Weimar Constitution) for references and detail.
- Machtan (pp.182-183) notes that while Berlin was the major focus of discontent, similar incidents of dissatisfaction were percolating throughout the SA in Germany
- Stennes had been a regular Army officer in the Reichswehr, a police captain and a Freikorps leader as well as an arms racketeer. He was OSAF Stellvertreter Ost (Deputy Supreme SA Leader East) in the SA and one of Pfeffer's seven regional deputies. See Green, Hoffman, p.15. Stennes had replaced Daluege in Berlin. Read, pp.199-221.
- Stennes had also been insubordinate: he had disobeyed directives and had formed ties with the German National People's Party (DNV)] and the Stahlhelm. Grant also notes that the complaints from Stennes had been voiced since at least May 1930; the more explicit protest in August was thus no surprise, and it is characteristic of Hitler's penchant for procrastination and disorderliness that he did nothing for months. Grant.
- He also criticized Hitler for being insufficiently revolutionary and for spending money on the Brown House in Munich, when SA men desperately needed more pay.
- Some in the SA sarcastically referred to the Führer as "Adolf Legalité."
- Toland, p.248.
- The real problems were bossism and favoritism, and poor pay. They were peaved that the Political Organization lived in "luxury" while the SA men worked late until exhaustion. Fest p.282. Stennes severely criticized Hitler for spending so much on the Brown House in Munich, while the SA men were underpaid. Grant, p.62-63. See also Machtan pp.182-83 (while poor pay and the parliament seats were the ostensible reasons offered by Stennes, the main objection was the emphasis by Hitler on the "legality" approach).
- These included the issuance of strident denunciations of Catholicism and capitalism (hardly a propos just before an election in a country with a substantial Catholic population), an end to corruption and bureaucratization in the NSDAP, the removal of Gauleiter power over SA men, the administration of SA independent of party administration and a fixed appropriation from party funds to be earmarked for the SA. Grant, p.63.
- Read, p.199
- Pfeffer demanded (at a Nazi leadership conference held on 2 and 3 August 1930) that SA be represented on the NSDAP electoral list and that it be granted three secure seats in the Reichstag. Hitler naturally refused. The two men obviously had fundamental disagreements about the nature of the SA. Pfeffer saw the SA as a military institution that would help in overthrow of the Weimar Republic. Hitler wanted a legal seizure of power and a political SA: the SA's job was to further the party's propaganda efforts and to provide guard duty for rallies and, when necessary, to battle ruffians of the Left. Pfeffer resigned on August 12, to take effect September 1. Lemmons p.80
- Fischer, p.86
- Hoffman, pp.17-19.
- The SS was merely an arm of the SA at this time, not yet under independent leadership.
- Lemmons, p.80
- Fest p.283. Hitler also promised free legal representation for SA men arrested in the line of duty. Fest, p.283
- See Kershaw; Lemmons, pp.82-83 (while Hitler's personal appeal to the SA men was "enormous," and while it could solve the immediate problem, it did not address the underlying issue, which was the subordination vel non ('or not') of the SA to Hitler's purely political goals).
- Fischer, pp.85-87. Displaying the characteristic failure of a paramilitary adventurer to grasp political reality, Stennes even complained that the strategy of legality was shown to be a failure because the Party failed to win the 1930 Reichstag elections outright with a clear majority. Fischer. p.86
- Fischer, p.86
- Kershaw, p.217
- Collier, p.174.
- Goebbels noted in his diary that the party might even face another ban, since the Brüning Emergency Decree of March 28 had given the Chancellor express power to contend with "political excesses." Such a ban would be disaster in the wake of the Nazi political victory in September 1930. Kershaw, p.217
- In all some 500 SA men were purged. The rest returned. Kershaw
- Friedrich-Wilhelm Kruger was given Stennes' position as Gruppenführer East and Hitler wrote to congratulate the SS men, stating "SS-Mann, deine Ehre heisst Treue." The motto of the SS -- was thereby born. Grant, p.52
- Hoffman, pp.19-22; Carsten pp.140-43; Nyomarkay pp.117-121; Lemmons p.52
- Evans, p.274.
- See, e.g., Evans, p.274
- SA leader Walter Stennes a Soviet agent
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