Otto Rühle on “Red Fascism”

Radical German communist Otto Rühle’s 1939 essay on the shared characteristics between Bolshevism and Fascism

The following article first appeared anonymously in the September 1939 edition of American communist journal Living Marxism. Its author, Otto Rühle, was living in Mexico at the time, having fled there by way of Czechoslovakia during the early ’30s to escape the rise of National Socialism (Rühle’s wife, Alice Rühle-Gerstel, was Jewish). Rühle had good reason for his writing to be published anonymously – factionalism was as much a feature of left-wing politics then as it is now, and Rühle was concerned that his reputation as a vociferous critic of Stalinism and the Soviet Union would lead communists to boycott the publication. Rühle had plenty of experience in this regard. In 1916 he had been expelled from the Social-Democratic Party over his opposition to the party’s position on the War, and in April 1920 he had left the nascent Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in frustration at the growing Leninist authoritarianism within its leadership, tactics, and organizational structure. Rühle’s active involvement in revolutionary Marxist politics made him a first-hand witness to the growing stranglehold which the Russian Bolsheviks were beginning to asset over the international communist movement, and as fascism begin to rise in Europe and particularly within Germany he began to see parallels between the authoritarianism he had experienced on the Left and that developing on the Right. Authoritarianism, deference to supreme leadership, ruthless militancy, iron discipline, rigid centralism, thoughtless conformity, party before people – in Rühle’s eyes these were as much features of Leninism as they were of fascism, and he believed it indisputable that the state form of the Soviet Union had served as a direct template for those in Germany and Italy. The conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 was confirmation for Rühle that his assessment of Bolshevism as a form of “red fascism” was correct, and the essay below appeared a month later in direct response to it. 

The Struggle Against Fascism Begins with the
Struggle Against Bolshevism

by Otto Rühle

council_communism

I.

Russia must be placed first among the new totalitarian states. It was the first to adopt the new state principle. It went furthest in its application. It was the first to establish a constitutional dictatorship, together with the political and administrative terror system which goes with it. Adopting all the features of the total state, it thus became the model for those other countries which were forced to do away with the democratic state system and to change to dictatorial rule. Russia was the example for fascism.

No accident is here involved, nor a bad joke of history. The duplication of systems here is not apparent but real. Everything points to the fact that we have to deal here with expressions and consequences of identical principles applied to different levels of historical and political development. Whether party “communists” like it or not, the fact remains that the state order and rule in Russia are indistinguishable from those in Italy and Germany. Essentially they are alike. One may speak of a red, black, or brown “soviet state”, as well as of red, black or brown fascism. Though certain ideological differences exist between these countries, ideology is never of primary importance. Ideologies, furthermore, are changeable and such changes do not necessarily reflect the character and the functions of the state apparatus. Furthermore, the fact that private property still exists in Germany and Italy is only a modification of secondary importance. The abolition of private property alone does not guarantee socialism. Private property within capitalism also can be abolished. What actually determines a socialist society is, besides the doing away with private property in the means of production, the control of the workers over the products of their labour and the end of the wage system. Both of these achievements are unfulfilled in Russia, as well as in Italy and Germany. Though some may assume that Russia is one step nearer to socialism than the other countries, it does not follow that its “soviet state” has helped the international proletariat come in any way nearer to its class struggle goals. On the contrary, because Russia calls itself a socialist state, it misleads and deludes the workers of the world. The thinking worker knows what fascism is and fights it, but as regards Russia, he is only too often inclined to accept the myth of its socialistic nature. This delusion hinders a complete and determined break with fascism, because it hinders the principle struggle against the reasons, preconditions, and circumstances which in Russia, as in Germany and Italy, have led to an identical state and governmental system. Thus the Russian myth turns into an ideological weapon of counter-revolution. Continue reading

Basic Features of the National Socialist Economic System

Cambridge economist C.W. Guillebaud’s 1939 analysis of the essential features of Hitlerian economic ideology

NSDAP - Hitler-BewegungObjective analysis of National Socialism is virtually impossible nowadays. The enduring hangover of the War, the popular use of ‘Nazi’ as a pejorative divorced from its original ideological meaning, the adoption of Hitler’s image and ideas as an easy shorthand for Ultimate Evil – these have all combined to ensure that peoples’ responses to the subject are inherently emotive, and that academics who do attempt a dispassionate assessment risk suffering the potentially career-ending accusation of “sympathy”. This is not a new phenomenon; a contemporary Canadian review of the 1939 book The Economic Recovery of Germany noted that its author, Cambridge University economics lecturer C.W. Guillebaud, had recently been accused by another reviewer of being an apologist for German policies over his book’s tone of unbiased critique. But the accusation did not spell doom for Guillebaud’s public image, as it would do now. In the same year as his book’s publication Guillebaud became a government advisor on economics issues, beginning a distinguished career in the public service which included many years on the Council of the Royal Economic Society and a seat on numerous industrial dispute tribunals and wage arbitration committees, where he came to develop a reputation as a pro-labour maverick. Guillebaud’s interest in industrial relations is probably what prompted his study of the economic system in Hitler’s Germany, rather than any covert sympathy for ‘Nazism’; his other works suggest a strong interest in social policy and modern forms of industrial arbitration, both areas in which NS Germany was experimenting with new, progressive models. The chapter from Guillebaud’s book which I have excerpted below is typical of his fair, balanced approach. It describes in detail the basic features of the economic system in Germany at the time, outlining its core ideological principles as well as its strengths and weaknesses, and does so in a manner which is remarkably impartial in comparison with writing on the same subject produced by authors today. The excerpted chapter is one of the best and most concise descriptions of Hitlerian economic policy during the 1933-39 period I have come across, and the fact the author does not feel the need to browbeat the reader with the Germans’ moral shortcomings every other sentence is remarkably refreshing. 

Some Basic Features
of the National Socialist Economic System
Chapter V of  ‘The Economic Recovery of Germany’
by C.W. Guillebaud

Reichsadler

This chapter is an attempt to sum up in a few words what would appear to be the salient characteristics of the German economic system as it took shape during the years 1933 to March 1938.

State Control Over Investment, the Money Market, the Rate of Interest, and the Foreign Exchanges

By the establishment of a rigid and highly effective control over the foreign exchanges the German economy has in a large measure, though by no means completely, been rendered independent of fluctuations in the outside world. Under these conditions external changes could alter the total volume of Germany’s foreign trade, but could not cause wide divergences to occur between the value of imports and exports taken as a whole.

Down to the end of 1937 it was in fact possible to preserve a favourable balance of trade and to redeem a considerable part of the foreign debt whose existence has been, and still is, so great a handicap to Germany’s freedom of movement in her commercial relations with foreign countries. As a further result of foreign exchange control the internal monetary and price structure has been divorced from world price movements and from the influence of gold. The export of capital also can be effectively held in check.1

Inside Germany the monetary system has been based on the general principle that the effective volume of money and credit in circulation should keep pace with the growth of production and the output of goods and services. Continue reading

A Meeting-Hall Brawl

“We fought for the German worker!” Stormtrooper Kurt Massmann recounts a meeting-hall battle between Brownshirts and Communists

Saalschlacht_SAThe following short account, ‘Saalschlacht‘ (‘Meeting Hall Brawl’), was first published in the 1934 book Kampf: Lebensdokumente deutscher Jugend von 1914-1934, a collection of reminiscences from members of various nationalist, youth, and paramilitary movements. The translation below was not made by myself, but comes from George L. Mosse’s book Nazi Culture. The original author of the document was Kurt Massmann; as an economics student in Hamburg and Rostock, Massmann had joined the SA and NSDAP in 1929-30 and became particularly active as a leader in the National Socialist Student League. After 1933 he worked as freelance journalist and writer for a number of different publications and contributed to books relating to Party history and ideology. He died fighting in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Elements of Massmann’s account below might strike some readers as being difficult to swallow, although the author does present his story as factual. While it’s entirely likely Massmann is exaggerating or romanticizing certain aspects, situations such as the author describes really weren’t that uncommon. Pitched meeting-hall battles where chairs, glasses, and bottles were employed as weapons were a feature of political life, especially in the early ’30s. The literature is also full of accounts of former Communists joining the SA (and vice versa), including those who had previously had quite a good time beating up the ‘enemies’ who later became their comrades-in-arms. As historian Peter Merkl has remarked: “For the young in particular, changing from the Red Front to the brown shirt appears to have been no more unusual or consequential than change of juvenile gang membership…” The anti-capitalist aspects of the NSDAP’s ideology, along with its emphasis to certain demographics of its status as a “Workers’ Party”, contributed to the blurring of the lines between the two movements which made such membership transfers possible – as did the Communist Party’s own enthusiastic attempts to play up its militancy and nationalist credentials.

A Meeting-Hall Brawl
Kurt Massmann

Once we held a meeting in a workers’ suburb. The meeting had been called by us National Socialist students.

It was a very small meeting hall. One SA troop sufficed to guard the gathering. Around nine-thirty another SA troop was expected to show up at the close of the meeting in order to protect the participants from possible attack.

At eight o’clock the giant Schirmer, who was to speak that night, rolled up his shirt sleeves and with a friendly smile spat into his hands, which were as big as an average-sized trunk. He had been in Russia for three years and was familiar with the whole swindle there. Upon his return to Germany he became a National Socialist with all heart and soul, one of those who cause shivers to go through the hearts of the timid bourgeois, anxious over the dangerous “Socialism” rampant among the National Socialists! A splendid fellow! A man to whom one could entrust all one’s money and who would sooner kick the bucket from hunger before he would take a penny of it.

It is said that one day he was introduced to the Führer. The tall, uncouth lad, who otherwise was never at a loss for words, just stood there, swallowed hard, wiped his eyes with his fore-paw, and finally stammered: “Well, Adolf Hitler…” and exuberantly shook his hand. Then he came to his senses, blushed fiery red – oh, holy miracle! – pulled himself to his full height, saluted, and marched off with a smart about-face. Continue reading

Nation and Working-Class

Only proletarian revolution opens the way to nationhood: an early national-bolshevist pamphlet by Hamburg radicals Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim

Berlin_Rally_1918“National Bolshevism” has always been a fairly amorphous term. This is even more so the case today, where its relegation to meme status seems to have reduced it to a kind of aesthetic joke. Even in Germany, where the concept first originated, its meaning was never entirely fixed, never applied to one consistent worldview. Originally coined to describe the ideas of Jewish-German conservative-nationalist Paul Eltzbacher, who saw a Soviet system as Germany’s only means of national salvation following its defeat in WWI (Eltzbacher subsequently became a communist), the term was later used to describe several minor heretical movements on both the Left and the Right, deviations from Germany’s mainstream Marxist or nationalist currents which embraced certain elements of their respective enemies’ ideological worldviews. The earliest of these groups was the Hamburg branch of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), organized by prominent local radicals Fritz Wolffheim and Heinrich Laufenberg after their expulsion from the Communist Party over their anti-parliamentary, pro-syndicalist tendencies. Wolffheim and Laufenberg took the Hamburg KAPD in a national-communist direction, violently attacking social-democrats for betraying Germany and its proletariat through the Treaty of Versailles, and advocating instead of a civil war against the bourgeoisie a temporary alliance with them against the Western Powers as a precursor to the defeat and absorption of the middle-classes and the creation of a pan-German proletarian republic. Laufenberg and Wolffheim drew on German history and the example of the French Revolution to support their views; the 1920 pamphlet Nation und Arbeiterklasse, translated below, is a typical example. It is a curious mixture of radical left-wing Marxism and aggrieved nationalist sentiment, surveying the question of German nationhood from the perspective that Germany’s history of feudalism and imperialism left its bourgeois state and class underdeveloped, necessitating working with elements of the bourgeoisie so the broken Weimar system could be overthrown and a true German nation and state established in its place. Because the full text of the pamphlet is rather long, I have also made it available for download as a PDF via the Internet Archive for those who prefer that format. 

Nation and Working-Class
Heinrich Laufenberg & Fritz Wolffheim
July, 1920

hamsic

I.

Communism is the doctrine of the class struggle of the proletariat within capitalist society. Its goal is the destruction of the capitalist world-system and its replacement by the Commune of the world-economy.

Its struggle and mission are international. The very existence of the bourgeoisie and proletariat is determined by the capitalist mode of production. The struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat moves through nations, tearing them apart with the antagonisms between the classes in enemy camps. But as both classes can only exist so long as capitalist society lasts, at the end of their struggle class-antagonisms in every country will be abolished by the victorious proletariat. By smashing the capitalist form of economy and eradicating the capitalist class-society and wage system, the proletariat abolishes the bourgeoisie and, at the same time, itself as a non-propertied class. In doing so, it deprives class-divisions within nations of their foundations. Communist society sets all working members of a people [Volk] alongside one another, free and equal. It arises out of the socialized labor of a classless people, and comes to completion through the federalist integration of the economy of the classless peoples in the World Commune.

The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, mobilized within the embrace of the bourgeois nations, picks up the revolutionary tendencies extant when it first begins. Where bourgeois society is itself still struggling with feudal forces over the “political structure”, the proletariat fights in the foremost battle-lines of the bourgeoisie as the most energetic stratum driving the Revolution forward. After the bourgeoisie triumphs over the feudal world, the proletariat intervenes in the revolutionary struggles which unleash the emerging, reinvigorated groups of the bourgeois class to participate in the power of the state, and while also supporting the bourgeois wings of the revolution in these upheavals, it at the same time campaigns for the implementation of its own class goals in order to broaden its own revolutionary basis of struggle against the entire bourgeois class. It is precisely the course of the bourgeois revolutions which furnishes visible evidence that the bourgeois struggle for emancipation is unfurling the problems of humanity’s liberation, but that it is necessary to overcome bourgeois society itself in order to resolve these problems. All of these problems therefore fall automatically within the ambit of proletarian struggle. The most important of them, in which all others intersect as a focal point, is the organization of the nation. For the political manifestation of bourgeois society is the bourgeois state, which attempts to organize the nation as its given basis. And as this organization has had so little success at resolving all the other problems of humanity posed by bourgeois society, but the proletariat must, in order to carry out its own emancipation, conquer and shatter the bourgeois state, then in this case too it is forced to take up the unsolved problem at precisely the point where the Bourgeois Revolution left it. Continue reading