I’ve not done a WPP in ages, so I’ve shaken me folders and seen what drops out. This’un’s an interesting one, especially giving the brown-shirted tumults of recent year…
The Stennes Revolt was a revolt within the Nazi Party in 1930-1931 led by Walter Stennes (1895–1983), 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. There is some evidence that Stennes may have been paid by the government of German chancellor Heinrich Brüning, with the intention of causing conflict within the Nazi movement.
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.
We then hear the details of the actual ‘revolt’. First, in the run-up to the Reichstag elections of September 1930, Stennes put forward a platform of demands (“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”). This did not go down well with the Hitlerian leadership. So Stennes doubled down and took his men into action, demonstrating against Goebbels instead of providing a security detail for his Sportspalast speech, and then storming the Gau office in Berlin, cracking SS heads into the bargain. In the immediate interim Hitler folded – taking personal control of the SA, to demonstrate its importance (rather than it being subordinate to the Gau bureaucracy), and raising funding for the stormtroopers. The revolutionary rump of the SA represented by Stennes saw it as vindication and perhaps even victory.
However, Hitler soon moved on to the next thing, and brought back sketchy scarface Ernst Röhm from his South American bolthole to run the SA on a day-to-day basis. Did this go down well with Stennes and his faction? No, it did not – especially when it also meant “emoving control of Silesia from Stennes”. “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 homosexuality.”
The pushback continued: “On 20 February 1931 Hitler issued a decree making the SA subordinate to the party organization at the Gau level…On 26 February, Röhm forbade the SA from taking part in street battles and also forbade its leaders from speaking in public.”
When Brüning, the centrist Chancellor under the Presidency of Hindenburg (1930-1932) issued an emergency decree in March 1931 “requiring all political meetings to be registered and requiring all posters and political handouts to be subject to censorship [and delegating] wide powers to Brüning to curb ’political excesses.’,” Stennes was pushed over the edge, not least because Hitler’s “‘policy of legality’ appeared to be paying dividends in the economic misery of the depression—ordered strict compliance.”
And so 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’ newspaper, Der Angriff. Pro-Stennes versions of the newspaper appeared on 1 April and 2 April.
The response from the leadership this time was swift and uncompromising.
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.
And what of Stennes?
Stennes had a following among leftist oriented SA in Berlin, Pomerania, Mecklenburg and Silesia. When he left the SA and NSDAP he founded the National Socialist Fighting League of Germany (Nationalsozialistische Kampfbewegung Deutschlands, NSKD) and made connection with Otto Strasser, as well as Hermann Ehrhardt, 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.’
Well, I guess things might not have panned out how he thought. But he did swerve the Night of the Long Knives the following year, by virtue of already having been expelled from the SA and left Germany in 1933 to work “as a military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek until 1949, when he returned to Germany.”
As noted elsewhere:
In 1951, he was a leading member of the right wing Deutsche Soziale Partei (German Social Party). Afterwards, Stennes retired to private life. He applied for recognition as a victim of National Socialist tyranny, which was rejected in 1957 by the Federal Court. He lived in Lüdenscheid, until his death in 1983.
Meanwhile, link-hopping from this takes us to Otto Wagener (29 April 1888 – 9 August 1971), “a German major general and, for a period, Adolf Hitler’s economic advisor and confidant.” After service in the Great War leading to a position in the General Staff as a twenty-something young officer, “Wagener was [subsequently] involved in the planning of an attack against the city of Posen (now Poznań, in Poland), but had to flee to the Baltic countries to avoid arrest. There he merged all Freikorps associations into the German Legion, and assumed leadership after its leader, Paul Siewert, was murdered. After returning to Germany, he was active in Freikorps operations in Upper Silesia, Saxony, and the Ruhr area.”
After spending most of the 1920s travelling, by the decade’s close he had joined the NSDAP and the SA following recruitment by old Freikorps pal Franz Pfeffer von Salomon. “Wagener was able to put his business acumen and contacts to good usage for the Nazi Party [and] the SA…”
Wagener had used his business contacts to persuade a cigarette firm to produce “Sturm” cigarettes for SA men – a “sponsorship” deal benefiting both the firm and SA coffers. Stormtroopers were strongly encouraged to smoke only these cigarettes. A cut from the profit went to the SA ….
I think we are allowed something of a W. T. A. F?! reaction here.
Wagener “functioned as SA Chief of Staff from October 1929 through December 1930, assuming effective command of the SA for a few months in the wake of the Stennes Revolt until the assumption of command by Ernst Röhm as the new Chief of Staff in early January 1931.”
He then became a prominent economic advisor to Hitler, until internal wrangling and expediency saw him replaced. He was nicked during the Night of the Long Knives, though only briefly, and after ‘rehabilitation’ “he resumed his career in the army,” serving during the war “at the front, rising to the rank of major general and becoming a division commander. After the war, Wagener found himself first in British and later, from 1947 to 1952, Italian prisoner of war camps.”
In 1946 he wrote a memoir “about Hitler and the Nazi Party’s early history,” though “it was not published until seven years after his death, in 1978.”
He died in 1971 in the Bavarian town of Chieming.