Rathenau, Walther

Rathenau, Walther

(väl`tər rä`tənou), 1867–1922, German industrialist, social theorist, and statesman. Son of Emil Rathenau (1838–1915), founder of the German public utilities company Allgemeine Elektrizitätsgesellschaft (A.E.G.), Rathenau succeeded to the presidency of this corporation on his father's death. He directed the distribution of raw materials in World War I and became minister of reconstruction (1921) and later foreign minister (1922). He represented Germany at the Cannes and Genoa reparations conferences and negotiated the Treaty of Rapallo (see Rapallo, Treaty ofRapallo, Treaty of,
1922, agreement signed by Germany and the USSR at Rapallo, Italy. It was reached by Walter Rathenau and G. V. Chicherin independently of the Conference of Genoa (see Genoa, Conference of), which was then in session.
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) with Russia. A Jew, he was assassinated by nationalist and anti-Semitic fanatics, who opposed his attempts to fulfill reparations obligations. A strong nationalist who played an important role in Germany's war efforts, Rathenau was also a strong proponent of international cooperation and his diplomatic initiatives played a key role in breaking Germany's postwar diplomatic isolation. In his writings, Rathenau contended that the days of unfettered capitalism were over and argued that technological change and industrialization were pushing civilization toward a stage of extreme mechanization, in which the human soul would be lost. In an attempt to find an alternative to laissez-faire capitalism that did not involve state socialism and Marxism, Rathenau proposed a decentralized, democratic social order, in which the workers would have more control over production and the state would exert more control over the economy. His translated works include In Days to Come (1921) and The New Society (1921).


See studies by H. K. U. Kessler (1928, tr. 1930, repr. 1969), D. Felix (1971), and H. Pogge von Strandmann (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rathenau, Walther


Born Sept. 29, 1867, in Berlin; died there June 24, 1922. German industrialist, financier, political figure, and publicist.

In 1899, Rathenau became a member of the board of the German General Electric Company, and in 1915, chairman of the board. Politically he sided with the moderate wing of the German bourgeoisie, and in November 1918 he joined the German Democratic Party. He favored Germany’s strict adherence to the Peace Treaty of Versailles (1919). In May 1921, Rathenau became minister of reconstruction, and in February 1922, minister of foreign affairs. During the Genoa Conference in April 1922, he signed the Treaty of Rapallo (1922) with Soviet Russia. Rathenau was assassinated by members of a secret nationalist terrorist organization known as Consul.


Gesammelte Schrifien, vols. 1–6. Berlin, 1925–29.
Briefe, vols. 1–2. Dresden, 1926.
Tagebuch, 1907–1922. Düsseldorf, 1967.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Born and raised in Berlin as the eldest son of the successful electrical industrialist Emil Rathenau, Walther grew up in privilege at a time of tremendous opportunity for Germany's Jews.