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Speech by the Social Democrat Otto Wels against the Passage of the "Enabling Act" (March 23, 1933)

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Ladies and gentlemen! The situation that prevails in Germany today is often described in glaring colors. But as always in such cases, there is no lack of exaggeration. As far as my party is concerned, I declare here: we have neither asked for intervention in Paris, nor moved millions to Prague, nor spread exaggerated news abroad. It would be easier to stand up to such exaggerations if the kind of reporting that separates truth from falsehood were possible at home. It would be even better if we could attest in good conscience that full protection in justice has been restored for all. That, gentlemen, is up to you.

The gentlemen of the National Socialist party call the movement they have unleashed a national revolution, not a National Socialist one. So far, the relationship of their revolution to socialism has been limited to the attempt to destroy the social democratic movement, which for more than two generations has been the bearer of socialist ideas and will remain so. If the gentlemen of the National Socialist Party wanted to perform socialist acts, they would not need an Enabling Law. They would be assured of an overwhelming majority in this house. Every motion submitted by them in the interest of workers, farmers, white-collar employees, civil servants, or the middle class could expect to be approved, if not unanimously, then certainly with an enormous majority.

And yet, they first want to eliminate the Reichstag in order to continue their revolution. But the destruction of that which exists does not make a revolution. The people are expecting positive accomplishments. They are waiting for effective measures against the terrible economic misery that exists not only in Germany but in the whole world. We Social Democrats bore the responsibility in the most difficult of times and for that we had stones cast at us. Our accomplishments for the reconstruction of the state and the economy, for the liberation of occupied territories, will stand the test of history. We have established equal justice for all and a social labor law. We have helped to create a Germany in which the path to leadership of the state is open not only to princes and barons, but also to men from the working class. You cannot back away from that without relinquishing your own leader. The attempt to turn back the wheel of history will be futile. We Social Democrats know that one cannot undo the facts of power politics with mere legal protests. We see the power-political fact of your present rule. But the people’s sense of justice is also a political power, and we shall not cease to appeal to this sense of justice.

The Weimar Constitution is not a socialist constitution. But we stand by the principles enshrined in, the principles of a state based on the rule of law, of equal rights, of social justice. In this historic hour, we German Social Democrats solemnly pledge ourselves to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No Enabling Act gives you the power to destroy ideas that are eternal and indestructible. After all, you yourselves have professed your adherence to Socialism. The Socialist Law has not destroyed social democracy. German social democracy will draw new strength also from the latest persecutions.

We greet the persecuted and the oppressed. We greet our friends in the Reich. Your steadfastness and loyalty deserve admiration. The courage of your convictions and your unbroken optimism guarantee a brighter future.

Source of original German text: Otto Wels’s Speech against the Passage of the Enabling Act (March 23, 1933), in Paul Meier-Benneckenstein, ed., Dokumente der deutschen Politik, Volume 1: Die Nationalsozialistische Revolution 1933, edited by Axel Friedrichs. Berlin, 1935, pp. 36-38.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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