Windhoff, Carl (1872-1941)

Windhoff (front right) International Syndicalist Congress 1913

A short biography of Carl Windhoff, German anarchist, FAUD organiser and tiler

Carl Windhoff was born on 9th November 1872 in Düsseldorf. He became interests in radical ideas at the age of fourteen and gravitated towards the workers’ movement controlled by the Social Democrats. He joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1890. As a young adult, he read Edward Bellamy, Tolstoy, Zola, Kropotkin, as well as scientific literature and "South German peasant novels". He was one of the most important SPD leaders in Düsseldorf until he left the party in 1901. It was in the year before that he first started trying to organise among his fellow tilers. Five years later after much work the Tilers Union of Düsseldorf and Environs was set up. A vacuum was filled by the creation of this union, the mainstream unions ignoring the region and these particular workers.

The tilers were known for their self-discipline and pride in their work. Windhoff was targetted by the employers and blacklisted. Despite this the tilers were the first workers in Germany to gain 6 days paid holiday in 1923. Wiindhoff and the tilers joined the Free Association of German Trade Unions (FVdG) and he become one of its most prominent members in the Rhineland. The FVdG represented the localist current within the German unions who rejected the centralising control of the General Commission of German Trade Unions controlled by the SPD. They were to be the nucleus of the post-WW1 Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschlands (FAUD) the anarcho-syndicalist organisation. The FVdG had about 8,000 members and stood for class struggle and anti-militarism in opposition to the class collaboration and jingoism of the General Commission unions.In 1913, Fritz Kater, Karl Roche, and he were the FVdG's delegates at the First International Syndicalist Congress in London.

After World War I, Windhoff was one of the leaders of the FVdG in the Ruhr region and helped re-build the organization. The creation of the FAUD was in no small measure due to the work of Windhoff. On 15-16th September 1919 meeting in Düsseldorf the FVdG unions together with the General Miners Union and the Düsseldorf and Essen branches of the AAU created the FAUD. This was followed up by a conference in Berlin in December. As a result the FAUD gained a membership of 120,000. In Düsseldorf alone the FAUD organised 800 building workers, 4,000 municipal workers, and 11,400 metalworkers. The Düsseldorf FAUD workers gained the seven and a half hour working day and no work at all on Saturday afternoon, unheard of in a country where workers worked an average of ten hours a day. The tilers led several successful strikes and were able to wring many concessions out of the employers for the Düsseldorf building workers. A tilers’ youth group was set up and this contributed to the founding of the Anarchist Syndicalist Youth (SAJD) in the region.

Windhoff became the head of the agitation committee of the FAUD in 1922. He was also active in the International Federation of Construction Workers (Syndicalist) the industry-specific counterpart of the International Workers Association (IWA). He spoke at the IWA Congress in Madrid in 1931.

By 1930 with working class demobilisation and the effects of the economic crisis FAUD membership in Düsseldorf had decreased to 234. Windhoff was dismissed from his job in the same year, after having worked there for 7 years.

With the coming to power of the Nazis it was decided to dissolve the Tilers Union and maintain an illegal underground organisation. Windhoff was entrusted with carrying this out, transferring funds to the underground FAUD. At the beginning of 1933 he was convicted for “slander ” and in summer of that year he and his second wife Kaethe ( nee Jonal) , whom he had married in 1917, were the victims of house searches. In October 1934 the Brown Shirts invaded their flat for seven hours. A further search followed in the same year and one week later Windhoff was arrested. All in all there were seven house searches up until March 1937, with a quest for illegal publications which were never found. On 23rd February Carl and Kaethe were arrested again by the Gestapo. Carl was accused of conspiracy to perform high treason, organising secret meetings of the tilers, transferring union funds for the commission of acts of violence against the employers, and organising a strike in Lippstadt. For this he received 3 years in prison, whilst Kaethe was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for aiding and abetting.
Windhoff had been detained in prison for a long time before the trial and his health now rapidly deteriorated with the awful conditions in Luettringhausen prison. He suffered several strokes and was transferred to a prison hospital in Cologne. He was then returned to Luettringhausen and was now in a state of severe physical and mental decline , as a result of which he was released before the completion of his sentence. He never recovered and died at home on 28th May 1941.

Nick Heath


Posted By

May 14 2012 20:47


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May 28 2012 22:34

The picture (delegates of the first syndikalist congress 1913 in London) shows Carl Windhoff in front, right.

May 29 2012 10:33

Yes, it's already captioned as such if you put the cursor over the photo!!!!!!

May 29 2012 23:58

vis-à-vis Windhoff sits Karl Roche - the other photo of K.R. known to exist (Wayne Thorpe, in his »The Workers Themselves«, confused it the other way round). In the back row right you see Fritz Kater, one of the presidents of the first syndikalist congress 1913.

Btw 1 (and no offence!): as you don't seem to have the German 'Umlaute' on your keyboard - it's either 'Käthe' or 'Kaethe', but surely not Kathe.

Btw 2: A very good bio.

(And we need an update of your K.R.-Article - please! groucho )

May 30 2012 13:19

Have changed Kathe to Kathe, changes should appear soon, and will do update on Roche in next day.