Christians Social Action on the Continent

(NOTE: This is the concluding installment of an article begun in the last issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET.)

3. Germany

To understand the Christian social movement, both its principles and aims, knowledge of the German movement is indispensable. Like Great Britain, its origin was in the sphere of home or city missions, which concerned itself with the lot of the poor and needy. Both Christian charity and Christian social activity have their roots in Christian faith. For Germany the name of Johann Heinrich Wiehern must be mentioned. Wiehern erected the Rauhe Haus, a “house of rescue” for homeless boys.

Already in 1848 Wiehern called for the workers to unite for the purpose of establishing savings banks, building associations, cooperatives, .etc. , Wiehern had a comprehensive view of the way people ought to live including its political, social, moral, spiritual, and ecclesiastical aspects. Thus 1848 marks the starting point of Christian social action in Germany. Witnessing the misery among the “lower” classes Wiehern understood well that Christian charity alone was unable to fight these evils effectively, and that a new order and a new spirit had to be established in German society. A few other Christian leaders could he mentioned who in this period of unrestrained “freedom” of labor called for workers’ associations. In spite of such individual efforts it was not until 1890 before an influential Christian social movement came into being.



Atheistic Propaganda

During all the years from 1848 to 1890 the workers were propagandized by atheistic and Marxist teachings. By means of meetings and pamphlets the socialist ideas of Ferdinand LaSalle, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and later Bebel, Kautsky and others were propagated. Germany more than any other country has been the spawning ground for Marxist ideologies. Although he lived in Great Britain for many years where he witnessed the miserable conditions of the workers, Karl Marx was a German by birth. His theories, derived partly from the German philosophers of his time such as Feuerbach, Hegel, and others, and partly from the British economist, Ricardo, were now gathered into a system which seemed to offer scientific proof that a new and better society was bound to come. The German generally has a liking for systematic theorization. The reasonings of Karl Marx, the way in which he argued, attracted many Germans. Marxist leaders simplified the doctrines found in Marx famous book Das Kapital (“Capital”) for the simple workers who could not understand the book upon reading it.

The German labor movement was in need of leaders and it found them among the atheists of the Social-Democrat party. Owing to this influence, and also to the fact that the German church broke away from its simple, Biblical belief as a result of rationalism, the masses turned away from the church. About the turn of this century action was set up by the Social-Democrat unions to induce its members to leave the church.

Research conducted by Adolph Levenstein among a few groups of workers showed the following results:

(1) Out of 2084 mineworkers 370 (17.7%) confessed to believe in God; 914 (43.7%) declared not to believe in God; 148 (7.3%) had left the church; 652 (31.3%) did not answer the question.

(2) Out of 1153 textileworkers 79 (6.9%) confessed belief in God; 711 (61.6%) did not believe in God; 45 (3.9%) has left the church ; 318 (27.6%) did not answer.

(3) Out of 1803 metalworkers 219 (12.1%) believed in God; 905 (50.1%) did not believe in God; 112 (6.2%) had left the church; no answer was given by 566 (31.6%).

It is very likely that these figures would compare quite favorably with those current investigations might produce, but for that time these figures were sad enough. C. Smeenk in his Voor het Sociale Leven (1914) from which we took these figures concludes the chapter in which they are recorded with this sigh:

Oh, if only the Christians of the 19th century would have understood better the significance of the rising labor movement and would have put their hands to the plow in due time! Oh, if Christianity’s confessors would even now understood their Christian social mission!

This lamentation could be repeated today.

The forces of materialism, having penetrated science, the arts, yea, all the realms of life, have done their most effective work in the creation of a labor movement without God and without religion. Only a few Christian men have seen the danger. These men became the pioneers of a Christian social movement. But even today many of our religious and ecclesiastical leaders have not awakened. They would not think of sending their sons and brothers to fight in modern warfare against atom bombs and other fearful, scientifically constructed weapons with only their bare fists. But in the battle against the forces of the Devil: rationalism, materialism, and other systems they send their brothers out to fight with nothing but what they may have learned in the Sunday school or catechism class.

Penetration or Separation

Recently a Christian minister asked me if it would not be better to advise Christian laboringmen to join and to witness within the secularized labor unions, instead of organizing a separate, Christian union. I do hope that the Christian men in these unions have made use of the few opportunities for testimony which have been theirs. Fact is, however, that if these opportunities have been seized the labor movement of the world has not changed a bit. It has not given us the slightest reason to believe that it will leave that attionalistic course. And now that attempts are being made in the United States and Canada to change that evil course by establishing labor unions which desire earnestly to listen to the social lessons of the Word of God is now the time to ask whether it would not be better to proceed on that course which has been followed for such a long period with much unsatisfying and disastrous results?

In Germany during the last decade of the 19th century a man arose with a better view, who has left his mark on the Christian labor movement of this country. His name was Adolph Stocker, who came to Berlin in 1874 as court chaplain. In 1871 he had become interested in city missions, and while engaged in this activity he was deeply impressed by the needs and misery of the multitudes of city-dwellers. In 1878 he connected sharply with the program of the Social Democrats, and from that time he devoted his life fully to the organization of a Christian social movement. Like Wiehern a few decades before, he saw the close relationship between the political, social, ecclesiastical, and spiritual aspects of life. Stocker worked in all these spheres with all his power. With regard to man’s social life he maintained emphatically that there is a profound relation between our Christian spiritual endowment and our social conduct.

In this time also the question arose whether one should organize apart from and opposite to the Social-Democrats. And if so, should one organize on a distinctively Christian basis? This same question is even today the very topic of discussion among our churches and people, and I am afraid that the question will continue to be with us for a long time.

A negative answer to the question of the advisability of separate organization was at this time given by two men whose experience clearly illustrates the significance of the question. They were both ministers, Paul Gohre and F. Naumann, Both were fine Christian men with deep social sympathies. Although they advocated separate Christian social action earlier in their careers, they later turned away from the idea of such organizations in order to enter the “neutral” unions. There with all the power of their Christian personalities they planned to work to change the spirit of these unions.

But alas! neither of these men continued on this basis, Naumann, who had issued in 1894 a cry for “Christian social action,” lost his conviction that Christianity has anything positive to say on social problems. Gohre, who deliberately became a laboring man in order better to understand the worker’s needs, joined at last the organized Social-Democrat movement, a movement which in Germany more than elsewhere was a bitter enemy of Christianity. In the German Social-Democrat movement the influence of these two men for Christianity can nowhere be found. This constitutes a serious warning for all those who in our time would attempt what these men tried!

Protestant Action

The Christian social movement in Germany followed Stocker. Both in Protestant and Roman Catholic circles there was demand for workers’ associations on a broad Christian basis, broad enough to allow Protestant and Catholic workers to unite in one organization, But this attempt failed. In 1882 a mineworker, L. Fischer, with the help of a minister and a teacher established a Protestant association, This attempt succeeded to such an extent that in 1885 there were 25 associations with 11,700 members. By 1914 they had 1135 associations with 142,000 members.

These groups were later united in a national federation which issued a periodical, organized courses in Christian social action, and owned a fine library. Thus the members were educated in Christian social principles, and through them the Church was called to execute its priestly task. In 1893 a social program was drawn up in which the aims of the movement were more broadly outlined. It declared that they opposed three things: materialistic socialism, that one-sided “spiritual” Christianity which is uninterested in social action, and the attitude which expects all social improvement to come in the way of the government and its laws.

In the same period Christian labor unions were organized. These followed a different course, however, since they were based on more general Christian principles designed to make possible the united membership of both Protestants and Catholics, In 1913 about one and one-half million (1,500,000) men were organized in these unions.

In 1890 another national movement of Christian men was established called The Evangelical Social Congress, in which Stocker, Adolph Wagner, Dr. L. Weber, and others took the lead. It published a magazine in which theologians, economists, and others wrote articles on social problems. Other literature was also published, in which a scientific defense of Christianity was the principal objective.

It is a remarkable coincidence that in a country where the Lutheran Church has always been comparatively strong one finds a strong Christian social movement. Actually the Church itself always kept apart from this movement, leaving its promotion to Christian lay leaders and Christian workers.

Both Roman Catholics and Protestants had their own workers’ associations, but they were combined in the labor unions. Having the majority, the Roman Catholic workers’ association was much the stronger. Cooperation in the labor unions was good, however. Loyalty to the kaiser and the fatherland united them, as did their common interest in combating the Social Democrats, whose attempts to get workers to leave the churches hit both communions. The churches themselves kept apart from the movement, and did not give it much support.

Defeat by Hitler

During the rise and rule of Hitler the divided Protestant churches did not exercise much influence. Hitler eventually swept both Social-Democrat and Christian social movements out of existence. When World War II was over American and British armies occupied western Germany. These occupation authorities promoted the restoration of the Social Democrat labor movement while hampering and even forbidding the re-establishment of Christian labor associations.

On this point the International Federation of Protestant Workers’ Organizations, founded in 1936 at Dusseldorf, interfered. Upon a visit to devastated Germany in 1947, representatives of the International Federation succeeded in finding a few men who were members of the former Protestant workers’ organizations (Evangelische Arbeitervereine) . This visit proved to be the needed incentive for these discouraged men to start over after having been without their organization for 14 years. The movement was again brought to life on a small scale in the Rhineland and Westphalia. Today, after about five years, new groups have started in many big cities of western Germany, and a national organization was founded a few months ago.

May this new start be blessed! May it become the point of departure for a revived Christian social activity in Germany, that land in which the great, world-shaking philosophies have ever fought bitterly against the only philosophy which can save lie world from destruction—the Christian philosophy founded on Jesus Christ who has overcome the world!

Roman Catholic Action

In the above statement we have limited ourselves to the Protestant social movement. Fact is, however, that in the Roman Catholic circles a similar and even stronger movement must be recorded. Adolf Kopling, a shoemaker, after becoming a priest started in 1847 the now internationally known St. Joseph Gesellevereine (St. Joseph’s Workers’ Organizations). Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler was a socially minded priest who attracted the attention of thousands with his social preaching. In 1850 he became bishop of Mainz. There he set up a social action program in which he advocated the founding· of workers’ organizations and production cooperatives.

Towards the end of the 19th century Roman Catholic workers’ organizations were established. Their activity ran parallel with the already mentioned Protestant workers’ organizations. Neither movement functioned as a trade union, which in those times was still unknown.

Christian Trade Unions

As stated above, a Christian trade union movement was born in which Protestant and Catholic workers cooperated. Trade unions, however, have never come into being in one single movement. For a considerable time, sometimes decades, they are spread out in small local groups started by individual tradesmen, craftsmen, etc. The merging always takes place at a later date. At first differences in form and purpose exist; in Christian unions creedal and ecclesiastical differences are very obvious.

In 1894 the existing Roman Catholic and Protestant miners’ organizations called a combined meeting in Dortsmund. There the decision was taken to establish an inter-confessional organization. For some years the question of confessional or interconfessional unions was discussed, but on January 1, 1901, the Federation of German Christian Trade Unions was founded, based on Christian principles. Before they were swept away by Hitler they achieved a membership of one and one-half million.

One may doubt as to whether it would not have been better to have separate Protestant and Roman Catholic unions. The principles of this amalgamated movement were not as strong as one could wish. But in the battle against the powerful Marxist organization they were able to check their enemy. Also, they kept many workers away from the devastating influence of Marxist theories, and they have had a salutary influence on the trend of social and economic life.

In contradiction to the principles of the socialist labor movement, which advocated the annihilation of the existing society in order to establish a new socialistic society upon its ruins (now realized in Russia), the Christian trade unions of Germany took the stand that they should reorganize society and thereby improve the working conditions of the laborers. On May 2, 1933 the National Socialist government of Germany confiscated all labor union property, arrested union leaders, and put a stop to all union activities. As already mentioned, the same fate hit the Protestant Workers’ Association, which, until the last moment had pursued their aim to give the Protestant workers training in Christian social principles.

4. Switzerland

In the German-speaking section of this country the history of the movement is very similar to Germany itself. Whereas the German movement, however, has always been very fond of intellectual argumentation, the Swiss leaders excelled in warm and enthusiastic action. First they chose to penetrate the so-called “neutral” but actually Social-Democrat unions, but they remained in the minority. The workers established a Christian labor association which, as in Germany, united Catholics and Protestants. The leadership came to be increasingly Roman Catholic, however, and Protestant influence declined.

In 1920 a Protestant labor movement was born. Although it remained small, it grew steadily. Many Protestant workers have remained in the inter-confessional union. After the war a Protestant organization in the French-speaking section of Switzerland affiliated with the Swiss Organization of Protestant Workers. Their membership is now close to 20,000, and they are recognized in all the institutions and bodies operating in the social and economic sphere.

The basis of this organization is, the Constitution states, Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” The aims are set forth as follows:

Acknowledging that all trade union activity is based upon a certain philosophy of life, and, as we believe. every social order of human life is ultimately rooted in spiritual forces, the Protestant Christian labor movement attempts to bring the forces of the Protestant Christian faith to bear upon the practical social and trade union activity.

This is further set forth in the Constitution as follows:

Social and economic life should be so organized that it is instrumental for the eternal welfare of man and for the development of his personality. To that end justice and love should be the main laws in society, whereas materialism should be fought and the blind belief in human progress. which is supposed to lead to a higher economic order, should be overcome by the spirit of truth and mutual service.

This organization desires to proceed in its activity from the conception of man an revealed by Christ, and from the basis laid down by him, as it is convinced that he is the divine source from which all strength able to cure the illness of modern man and human fellowship flows.

There is a remarkable difference between the different declarations of principles in the Christian social movements of the various countries. In Switzerland the movement had its origin in Methodist circles, which one can detect in their statement of principles. In other countries Lutheran or Calvinistic overtones are perceptible.

But all of them proceed from the idea that Jesus Christ is the only source of strength from which a renewal of men and society can be obtained.