Opposition to the Enabling Act (1933)


In March 1933, Reichstag member Otto Wels (SPD) spoke out in opposition to the Enabling Act (March 1933). As Wels spoke, he frequently looked directly at Hitler – but he was also heckled and interjected by Nazi Party members. This is an extract of his speech:


“Ladies and gentlemen, we Social Democrats agree with the foreign policy demand raised by the Reich Chancellor of equal treatment for Germany – and do so all the more emphatically, since we have always fundamentally championed it… But after the persecutions the Social Democratic Party has suffered recently, no one will reasonably demand or expect that it vote for the Enabling Act proposed here.

The elections of March 5th have given the governing parties the majority, and thus the possibility, of governing in strict adherence to the words and meaning of the constitution. Where such a possibility exists, there is also an obligation to take it. Criticism is salutary and necessary. Since there has been a German Reichstag, never before has the control of public affairs by the people’s elected representatives been reduced to such an extent as is happening now – and will happen even more, through the new Enabling Act. The expansive power of the government must also have serious repercussions, as the press too lacks any freedom of expression.

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. 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.

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.”