- Macht und Verantwortung. Der Ruhrbaron Paul Reusch by Peter Langer
Of all the Ruhr industrial barons of the Weimar Republic, none was more powerful or influential than Paul Reusch. Historians like Henry Turner, Gerald Feldman, and Dirk Stegmann were among the first to alert us to Reusch’s central significance as a power broker among the Ruhr industrial elite. Reusch was general director of the Gutehoffnungshütte (GHH), a holding copy with extensive assets in the Ruhr and southwest Germany, from 1909 until he was forced from office by the Nazis in 1942. Along with Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Fritz Springorum, and Albert Vögler, Reusch played a critical role in shaping the policies of Germany’s industrial establishment as it wrestled with the problems of Germany’s lost war, the increased militancy of organized labor after the end of World War I, and—last but not least—the threat that Nazism posed not just to the future of his own concern but also to the social and economic power of Germany’s conservative elites. A comprehensive biography of Paul Reusch has long been a major desideratum of the economic and political history of Germany in the first third of the twentieth century despite the fact that the bulk of his political and business correspondence survived the war and has been accessible to historians since the 1960s. Peter Langer has admirably filled this gap with the publication of this monograph.
The author is not a name known to many historians, particularly on this side of the Atlantic. Langer, however, is an accomplished historian who has published extensively on the history of Oberhausen, the city in the Ruhr where he has served as chairman of the local history society and where the headquarters of Reusch’s Gutehoffnungshütte were located. It was therefore only a small step for Langer, who had devoted his life to the history of Oberhausen, to undertake a biography of Oberhausen’s favorite son, a man who moved there upon his appointment as the GHH’s director in 1909 and continued to live there until the last years of the war. Langer spent more than a decade conducting the empirical research upon which his biography is based, relying in particular upon Reusch’s private papers, preserved in the GHH’s corporate archives and now located in the Rheinisch-Westfälisches Wirtschaftsarchiv (RWWA) in Cologne.
The picture of Reusch that emerges from Langer’s exhaustive and meticulous research on one of the Ruhr industrial establishment’s most powerful figures is far from laudatory. Langer provides persuasive evidence that in the years between his [End Page 215] appointment as GHH director and the outbreak of World War I, Reusch strongly opposed bourgeois reform movements like the Hansa-Bund for Commerce, Trade, and Industry, and that he chose to affiliate himself with the German Association—an organization founded in 1907 by Catholic opponents of the allegedly “ultramontane” elements in the Center in order to ally the party with the more progressive elements of the German bourgeoisie. At the same time Reusch exerted pressure on the Duisburg-Mülheim-Oberhausen chapter of the National Liberal Party (NLP) to block efforts by the party’s more reform-minded elements to realign the NLP with the Hansa-Bund, as well as their crusade for a sweeping liberal reform of Wilhelmine politics. During the war Reusch actively supported the annexationist war aims of the extreme Right, as the GHH recorded unprecedented profits from its participation in the war economy. Reusch displayed little sympathy for the goals of the “Burgfriede” that Wilhelm II proclaimed at the outbreak of the war and remained irreconcilably opposed to any concessions to the organized working class that this might entail.
Germany’s defeat and the collapse of the Second Empire did not produce any fundamental change in Reusch’s political posture. Langer summarily dismisses the suggestion that Reusch was a Vernunftrepublikaner, i.e., a political pragmatist who was prepared to work within the republican system of government as long as it afforded...