The gentlemen from the “Neue Preußische Kreuzzeitung” – Iron Cross in the logo – didn’t like that. When Erik Reger was awarded the Kleist Prize in 1931 for his Ruhr area and industrial novel “Union der Feste Hand”, the right-wing conservative newspaper saw in it the expression of a “protection economy of cliques and opinion groups” and proof of the “decay of every critically objective basis in favor of highly one-sided and momentary fits of enthusiasm”.
Involuntarily, these statements already provide material for a language criticism as practiced by Erik Reger and as it is still relevant today: Representatives of a dominant ideology feel challenged and declare it to be objective, universally valid, timeless. Criticism of it is subjective, mere opinion of a few, zeitgeist.
With the new edition by Schöffling-Verlag, the main literary work by the later founder of the Tagesspiegel is now available again, for the first time also as an e-book. The founder of the publishing house, Klaus Schöffling, included it in his program before Daniel Kampa took over his publishing house.
Last but not least, he was motivated by the great interest in the new editions of the works of Gabriele Tergit (“Käsebier conquers the Kurfürstendamm”, “Effingers”), Erik Reger’s contemporary, who then also dealt with him at the Tagesspiegel.
But be careful: The “Union of the Firm Hand” is not a Ruhrpott piece of fight and buddy romance. Even as an industrial and mining novel, the book would have fallen out of time by now. Reger’s work is above all worth reading today because it permeates politically motivated language production and illustrates its mechanisms, analyzing a process of consciousness.
If Tergit, whose novels also deal with discourse and myth-making, has an eye for non-simultaneity (“medieval army of stupidity and cruelty held off maneuvers with electric lights, vacuum cleaners and central heating”), Reger does it with comforting and normalization -Strategy that smothers critical thoughts and possibly the revolutionary and reformatory actions that may arise from them
The methods are blame shifting, half-truths, straw man arguments, bombast and bullshit, in which truth or lies are no longer important, only effect. From social inequality to the danger of a new fascism to the all-encompassing climate catastrophe, it is just as important today as it was then to see through and suppress such communication.
“Someone who lies every day, but who has raised the lie to the rank of ritual truth, can no longer be rendered harmless by being proven to have lied on a case-by-case basis.” From the Nazis to Trump and Putin Reger wrote a valid sentence in his series of articles “Natural History of National Socialism”, which appeared in the “Vossische Zeitung” in 1931.
To this day, there is honest journalism and politics that assumes that they can deal with the ritual liars and bullshit strategists with fact checks and counterarguments. In terms of democracy, emancipation and diversity, it would be more important to develop your own powerful narratives instead of constantly working on the opponent.
The lie as ritual truth is also at the center of the “union of the firm hand”. The novel describes the 1920s in the Ruhr area on two levels – work and capital. It’s a novel with no real protagonists. It’s about types and groups.
On the one hand, the ensemble of industrialists, who come together in a kind of lodge, the “Union of Firm Hands”. Alienated by name, but recognizable are, for example, the Nazi financier Fritz Thyssen, the “modern” industrialist Hugo Stinnes, who recognized the importance of communicative and cultural manipulation, the Krupp general director and media entrepreneur Alfred Hugenberg, or Gustav Krupp von Bohlen, who initially hesitated, then gave in and Halbach.
On the other hand the workers: The crane driver, communist and trade unionist Adam Griguszies and his sister Paula, who also works for the all-encompassing industrial group, come closest to common main characters in novels. While Paula comes to terms with herself and rises to the petit bourgeoisie without denying herself, Adam goes through a course of disillusionment.
During the Weimar years, the revolution’s courage to fight gave way to institutionalization, adjustment and the need to compromise, and culminated in the realization that he and the people he represented could do little to counter the power and discourse advantage of the rulers – and in many cases they didn’t even want to.
After the “Union of the Firm Hand” Reger wrote another new-objective political novel, “The Watchful Chicken”. Municipal cliques and regional megalomania in Rhenish-Westphalian cities are the themes of the book. During the National Socialist era, Reger published “inner texts”, as the literary scholar Erhard Schütz calls them, “memoirs of childhood, love and landscape novels”.
Reger later used his Weimar writings, culminating in the Kleist prize-winning “Union der Feste Hand” as evidence of his anti-fascist attitude. He presented “the book” to Red Army officers at his house in Mahlow south of Berlin, constantly concerned that his only Russian copy might arouse so much interest that one of the Red Army soldiers would take it away and not see it again and could no longer use it as a protective shield during the next planned requisition at the Reger house.
He was also well received by the Americans with his journalistic CV and was finally entrusted with founding the Tagesspiegel. Reger wrote repeatedly that it was important to do everything to prevent the Nazis from rising before they won – and that it could be important again in the future. Afterwards resistance is difficult to hopeless.
The “Union of the Firm Hand” acts as a key witness piece of evidence for Reger’s work and thus also for the Tagesspiegel in the post-war period. The “internal emigration” – not only Reger, but also the other founders stayed in Germany during the Nazi years – became a kind of norm, which even led to intolerable failures towards emigrants.
The failure of the collaboration with the London correspondent Gabriele Tergit is also likely to be related to this. From exile and emigration, those who remained did not want to be told what the decisive questions about the Nazi era were.
This in the otherwise by no means reactionary post-war daily mirror. For example, in contrast to other newspapers, denigration of the Nuremberg trials or denazification, which was initially even more effective under Allied leadership, as “victor’s justice” were not widespread.