Schmidt, Robert

(1864-1943)
   politician and trade-union* official; a perpetual Economics Minister during the Republic. Born to working-class cir-cumstances in Berlin,* he apprenticed as a piano maker. After he joined the SPD, he was an official during 1890-1893 in the pianomakers' union, a position he retained when the pianomakers were absorbed by the woodworkers' union. He was an editor for Vorwarts* until his 1902 election to the General Com-mission of German Trade Unions (Generalkommission der Gewerkschaften Deutschlands). He was elected to the Reichstag* in 1893 and retained his man-date until 1930 (excluding 1898-1903), serving as a prominent member of the SPD's revisionist wing. Acquiring considerable economic expertise, he was first secretary of the Central Workers' Secretariat in 1903-1910 and led the General Commission's social-policy section from 1910 until the end of World War I.
   During the war Schmidt handled food problems, assisting with consumer or-ganizations and functioning in the war's final weeks as Deputy Agricultural Secretary under Prinz Max* von Baden. Elected to the National Assembly,* he became Philipp Scheidemann's* Agriculture Minister (February-June 1919); as such, he was charged with food allocation during the months of postwar block-ade.* Although he emulated his colleagues by resigning his ministry in protest to the Versailles Treaty,* he immediately joined Gustav Bauer's* cabinet and then succeeded Rudolf Wissell* in July 1919 as Economics Minister (former friends, Schmidt and Wissell engaged in a bitter ideological dispute). Abandon-ing Wissell's concept of a planned economy, he relaxed import-export controls in hopes of getting workers back in the factories and raising productivity; later, fearing inflation,* he returned piecemeal to fiscal controls. Together with Julius Hirsch, his State Secretary in 1919-1922, he remained at the Economics Min-istry in Hermann Müller's* first cabinet (March-June 1920) and again held the portfolio under Joseph Wirth* (May 1921-November 1922). In the short-lived cabinets of Gustav Stresemann* (August-November 1923) he was Vice Chan-cellor (until 4 October) and Reconstruction Minister. Müller returned him to the Economics Ministry in the final months of his second cabinet (1929-1930).
   Although Schmidt articulated support for the socialization program laid out in the SPD's 1891 Erfurt Program, his pragmatism led him to dismantle controls and regulations. His failure to pursue socialization has been widely criticized. Moreover, while he curbed laissez-faire economics, he fought a losing battle to retain many of the advantages gained by workers via the Central Working As-sociation.* During his final tenure as Economics Minister he was unable to maintain cabinet unity in favor of unemployment insurance policies. When Müller's cabinet collapsed in March 1930, Schmidt retired from politics. He passed his final years in Berlin.
   REFERENCES:Barclay, "Insider as Outsider"; Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Feldman, Great Disorder; Stachura, Political Leaders.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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