Wanderers into the Void

The German Communist Party, National Bolshevism, and the ‘Schlageter line’


“Hands off the Ruhr!”

The Occupation of the Ruhr

On January 11th, 1923, massed ranks of French and Belgian troops marched through the demilitarized Rhineland into the Ruhr Valley. “We are fetching coal,” announced the French Prime Minister Poincaré, and that, at least on the surface, provided the official justification for the aggressive occupation of the Ruhr. Germany had repeatedly defaulted on the reparations payments demanded of it by the Treaty of Versailles; France was due 200,000 metres of telegraph poles and several million Gold Marks worth of coal; and so 70,000 foreign soldiers trooped into Germany’s industrial heartland.

The German people, however, suspected that more cynical motives were driving the Gallic engineers and administrators who were now, under military protection, seizing German resources for forcible export to the West. Poincaré’s loathing for the German nation was infamous, as were French territorial ambitions on the Rhineland; in the eyes of many Germans the true purpose of the Franco-Belgian action was not to “fetch coal” but to permanently cripple and dismember the wounded body of the German nation.

Ironically, the attempt by France and Belgium to weaken the nascent German Republic instead created a united front of resistance through stoking the fires of German nationalism. There is no more effective means of inflaming a wave of patriotism than a foreign invasion, particularly in a nation already suffering from the humiliating wounds of surrender, war debt, political instability, and mounting hyperinflation. The immediate consequence of the occupation was the rallying together of those segments of German society which, up until the noise of French and Belgian boots tramping along Rhenish roads reached their ears, had been at one another’s throats.

Centre-right Reichschancellor Wilhelm Cuno declared his support for a campaign of local passive resistance. German industrialists refused to deliver demanded consignments of coal. Social-Democrats organized strikes and demonstrations. Unions joined with employers’ associations to raise funds for workers engaged in industrial actions. And the radical nationalists – Freikorps veterans, völkisch activists, and patriotic Verbänden, often supported clandestinely by the army – engaged in acts of violent reprisal, retaliating against massacres, arrests, and house searches conducted by French occupation forces with their own acts of sabotage, assassination, and terrorism.

The Death of Schlageter

On May 9th, 1923, one of these nationalist radicals was sentenced to death by a French military court for his part in blowing up a railroad bridge. The execution on May 26th of this Ruhrkampf saboteur, Albert Leo Schlageter, resulted in his ascension to martyrdom status, becoming a symbolic hero of German resistance – not only for nationalists and the broader right, but, in a strange twist, also for the communist movement. Schlageter’s death and his subsequent celebration by the Communist International ushered in a brief, but vibrant and bizarre, period in the history of German communism – one characterized by open, unapologetic nationalist-communist collaboration and the Communist Party of Germany’s (KPD) official adoption for the first time of an openly National Bolshevist stance.


The execution of Leo Schlageter

Schlageter was an unusual figure to receive the acclaim of the international Marxist movement. A decorated WWI soldier, a veteran of the Kapp Putsch and the Freikorps campaigns in the Baltic and Upper Silesia, a participant in the crushing of the ‘March uprising’ workers’ revolt, a clandestine arms trader, and a National Socialist political organizer – Schlageter, on the face of things, was the personification of everything the communists claimed to be fighting against.

The man who became Schlageter’s posthumous champion, Karl Radek, was equally unlikely. Radek was an Austro-Hungarian Polish Jew, a draft dodger, a Bolshevik revolutionary, a compatriot of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, a co-founder of the Spartakusbund, a man of such naturally radical inclinations that he eventually came to align himself with Trotsky’s Left Opposition before being annihilated in the Great Purge. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution Radek came to be considered the Comintern’s ‘German expert’; his clandestine activities fostering revolution on German territory had earned him not only a year’s jail-time in Moabit prison in 1919, but also a wily understanding of the German character and culture.


Karl Radek, the ‘engine of mischief’

Yet Radek was also a Machiavellian schemer, a realist (or, less charitably, an opportunist) willing to negotiate with bourgeois politicians, generals, and industrialists as much as with fellow revolutionaries. It was these qualities which ensured that  he recognized the instinctive pull which nationalism had on the hearts of the German people, including its proletariat. Radek believed that the Ruhrkampf and the nationalist ferment it had stirred up provided a potential springboard for revolution, or at least for driving a deeper wedge between Germany and the West. He could not let the prospect of diverting this nationalist uprising into Marxist channels go to waste.  Radek saw in Schlageter’s martyrdom an opportunity.

It was on June 20th, 1923, that Radek brought Schlageter’s fate to the attention of the wider world. Clara Zetkin, a prominent German socialist activist and the KPD’s Reichstag representative, had just given a speech in Moscow on the subject of fascism to the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI). Zetkin’s speech had presented fascism as a contradictory and disingenuous menace, a politically bankrupt movement whose hidden agenda was to restore and revitalize capitalism in Italy, Germany, and anywhere else Marxism posed a threat to the established order. Radek, who spoke immediately afterwards, did not directly refute Zetkin’s assessment. But he did offer a vision of fascists, rather than fascism, that was not only sympathetic, but even admiring. Radek had been, he claimed in his opening remarks, deeply moved by the recent execution of one Albert Leo Schlageter. Schlageter was, like so many “Fascisti”, a “wanderer into the void” – a bold, courageous, principled man fighting for the German people and against national enslavement, but doing so under the wrong banner, in the service of the wrong leaders:

Against whom did the German people wish to fight: against the Entente capitalists or against the Russian people? With whom did they wish to ally themselves: with the Russian workers and peasants in order to throw off the yoke of Entente capital for the enslavement of the German and Russian peoples? …We believe that the great majority of the nationalist-minded masses belong not to the camp of the capitalists but to the camp of the workers. We want to find, and we shall find, the path to these masses. We shall do all in our power to make men like Schlageter, who are prepared to go to their deaths for a common cause, not wanderers into the void, but wanderers into a better future for the whole of mankind; that they should not spill their hot, unselfish blood for the profit of the coal and iron barons, but in the cause of the great toiling German people, which is a member of the family of peoples fighting for their emancipation.

Communists and the Schlageter Line

Radek’s remarkable eulogy of Schlageter as a “courageous soldier of the counter-revolution” received a positive reception from the majority of the ECCI Plenum, although this is perhaps unsurprising considering it had already been vetted and approved by the Politburo. The speech was immediately interpreted as signalling a new tactic on the part of the international Communist movement. Up until recently, “Red terror” had been presented as the sole possible antidote to the “White terror” of the nationalists. The Russian Civil War had only recently ended; Freikorp massacres of German workers’ uprisings were still fresh in people’s minds; the brutal murders of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and other Spartakists had not been (and never really would be) forgiven. Communists, in Germany as elsewhere, had been instructed by the official Comintern line disseminated in their press and propaganda to regard nationalists as “the assassins of the workers”, not as misled potential allies. Radek’s speech indicated that the Comintern was making a change in tack. The Left was opening itself to the Right, putting out a hand of friendship to make common cause with Germany’s veterans and its middle-classes against a common enemy – the Entente.


“Only communism will save you”, KPD 1923

The ‘Schlageter line’, as this new course came to be known, was not the first instance of German communists pursuing a National Bolshevist strategy – nor would it be the last. It was the first, however, to have the official sanction of the Communist International. The Rote Fahne (‘Red Flag’), the KPD’s central party organ, had only a month earlier declared in its pages that “every single worker must be summoned to fight against fascism, against the united front of the exploiters”. Now, in a remarkable about-face, its editorial stance was transformed. Radek’s speech was published by the paper with glowing praise, and Radek himself was given the opportunity to write multiple articles defending and advocating for his position. After some initial murmurings of resistance the Schlageter line was soon picked up by  almost the entirety of the Party leadership, with the Politburo presenting a united front in their backing of the radical new strategy. These prominent figures of German Bolshevism joined Radek in urging the proletariat to “concentrate the fire of propaganda on the Schlageter line” through embracing and converting those fellow Germans of “honest national enthusiasm.”

The adoption of this new course prompted a vigorous response within the German communist movement. Instructions were passed down to Party branches to organize discussion circles with nationalists and Freikorps veterans, activities which were taken up with particular enthusiasm by members of the Young Communist League. Nationalists addressed communist gatherings. Communists addressed nationalist gatherings. Links were forged between communist and nationalist paramilitaries. Weapons were trafficked from Right to Left- and vice versa. Joint meetings between the competing camps were organized and advertised; for a while Germans were treated to the striking sight of posters emblazoned with both the Soviet star and the völkisch swastika. The KPD was determined to show the nationalists that it shared their struggle, that their revolt against the West and the Weimar Republic was best served through joining the revolutionary proletariat under the red banners of the hammer and sickle.

This situation led a number of communists into some remarkable situations. Radek, in his Schlageter oration, had described the martyred nationalist as a “wanderer into the void”. Yet in the chaos thrown up by the Schlageter line it was the communists who became the real wanderers into the void – sleepwalkers stumbling through a foreign land, lost in that foggy, liminal space where fascism and communism blur together indiscriminately. To call the völkisch to their side, to prove to them that Marxism truly did represent their best interests, the communists ended up taking positions that many would later find deeply embarrassing.

In July 1923, Ruth Fischer, co-leader of the KPD’s ‘ultra-Left’ faction, declared to a gathering of nationalist students at Berlin University:

Whoever declares against Jewish capital, gentlemen, is already a class warrior, even if he doesn’t know it. You are against Jewish capital and want to crush the stock market jobbers. Quite right! Crush the Jewish capitalists, hang them from the lamp posts. But, gentlemen, what is your attitude to the big capitalists, to Stinnes and Klöckner? …Only in alliance with Russia, gentlemen of the völkisch side, can the German people drive French capitalism from the Ruhr.


Ruth Fischer, the ‘trumpet-tongued’ radical

Fischer was not only an ‘ultra-Leftist’, a radical who  just a few weeks before had been castigating her own Party for not fully exploiting the revolutionary situation in the Ruhr – she was also half-Jewish, one of the co-founders of the Communist Party of Austria and, up until the adoption of the Schlageter line, a staunch internationalist.  Her adherence to the KPD’s new National Bolshevist strategy in spite of all her inner convictions made of her, like so many other communists in this period, a “wanderer into the void” of ideological chaos and collusion.

For German communists at the time, however, Fischer’s stance was perfectly orthodox. Jews in Germany were commonly associated with capitalism, and as a consequence the burgeoning post-War revolutionary-nationalist movement viewed capitalist economics as an exploitative foreign imposition. The KPD, with its newfound nationalist credentials, saw in this anti-Semitism a shortcut to winning völkisch activists to Bolshevism and was perfectly willing to exploit it. On August 2nd, Hermann Remmele, a member of the KPD Central Committee and editor of the Rote Fahne, joined Fischer in the void by announcing to a joint nationalist/communist meeting:

How such anti-Semitism arises I can easily understand. You only need to go to the slaughterhouse during the Stuttgart cattle market to see how the cattle dealers, most of whom are Jewish, buy cattle at any price while the Stuttgart butchers have to come away empty-handed because they just don’t have enough money to buy cattle… You, the Fascists, now say that you want to fight Jewish finance capital. All right. Go ahead! Agreed! [Stormy applause from the Fascists] But you must not forget one thing, industrial capital! [Interjections from the Fascists: “We fight that too!”] For finance capital is really nothing else but industrial capital.

Remmele’s argument, which represented the official standpoint of the KPD at the time, sought to position German anti-Semitism within the framework of the Party’s National Bolshevist strategy. Anti-Semitism was not explicitly rejected, since to do so would be to immediately alienate vast swathes of those same nationalists the KPD was trying to convert. Instead the Party presented anti-Semitism as just one factor in a wider anti-capitalist struggle; it was perfectly acceptable to oppose the Jews as agents of International Finance, but German liberation could only be achieved through the destruction of all forms and agents of capitalism, Jewish or non-Jewish. Along with violent polemics against “French imperialism” and attacks on the Treaty of Versailles as an anti-German tool of Western exploitation, such theoretical formulations were the foundation of the Schlageter line.

“Fascisti” and the Schlageter Line

While the principles of democratic centralism and the cohesiveness of KPD organization at the time ensured a consistent adherence to the Schlageter line among the communist leadership, the response in the nationalist camp was not quite as enthusiastic as Radek perhaps had hoped for. Adolf Hitler, for instance, on the face of things should have made a perfect ally for the newly nationalist KPD; the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) at this time was still expressly in favor of violent revolution, was still heavily oriented towards the proletariat, and its leader was well-known for his provocative, radical pronouncements. In one 1920 meeting in Salzburg he had declared that he would “rather be hung in a Bolshevik Germany than be contented in a French Germany”; in another he stated that he would prefer to see half a million German rifles in the hands of the Communists than in the hands of the Entente.

Yet in this period Hitler was not the undisputed Führer of German nationalism that he would later become. His movement still had little purchase outside of Bavaria, and in Germany’s völkisch camp he was merely one sectarian leader among many. Hitler would not bring his Parteigenossen into any movement of which he was not the leader or which he could not control – he had even forbidden National Socialists from participating in the nationalist-revolutionary terrorism in the Ruhr, although that had not discouraged members like Schlageter (nor did it discourage the NSDAP from later venerating Schlageter as a martyr). Some individual National Socialists did attend joint nationalist/communist meetings and collaborate with KPD activists, but they did so without official sanction.


Ernst zu Reventlow, ‘völkisch-socialist’

Interest in the Schlageter line came not from the NSDAP but rather from other high-profile figures of German nationalism, such as long-time völkisch politician Count Ernst zu Reventlow. Reventlow, a nobleman with a background in the Imperial Navy, had a history of involvement in nationalist and anti-Semitic politics dating back to the late 1800s. By 1923 Reventlow was one of the leading lights of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP), which had originally splintered from the bourgeois-nationalist German-Nationals and was at that time the country’s largest and most prominent racial-nationalist political party. Reventlow’s strong anti-capitalist sympathies later led him to leave the stolid DVFP for the more overtly socialistic and dynamic NSDAP, and it was these instinctive National Bolshevist tendencies which drew his interest to the KPD’s new strategy of fascist-communist collaboration.

While there is an erroneous tendency nowadays to regard the socialism of National Socialism as either a hoax or an illusion, Reventlow’s convictions were passionately-held and taken as seriously by his enemies as by his admirers. Reventlow’s speeches and writings were primarily concerned with addressing the problems and conditions of industrial workers, and he made his name – whether as a member of the DVFP or NSDAP – with his distaste for capitalism, his advocacy for reform, and his support for a military alliance with Bolshevist Russia. According to those who knew him, he was one of the few völkisch speakers whose speeches would receive a universally friendly response from the working-classes. Reventlow too seemed to carry at least some level of respect from activists of the Left; meetings he held were rarely (if ever) disrupted by the Red Front or Reichsbanner, and as a member of the Reichstag he got along comfortably with communist and socialist deputies.

Reventlow’s social-revolutionary credentials ensured he was open to the idea of communist-völkisch collaboration, and he certainly agreed with communist assertions that German nationalists had far more to gain with a foreign policy that supported Soviet Russia than with one which involved mindlessly falling behind the Western ‘plutocracies’. Reventlow not only wrote a response to Radek’s Schlageter speech in his own newspaper Reichswart (‘Guardian of the Reich’), but in late August 1923 he and communist journalist Paul Frölich published a number of articles within the Rote Fahne debating back-and-forth the relationship between nationalism and revolution.

Ultimately, however, Reventlow’s wariness towards the KPD prevented him from offering unreserved support to the communists. While he welcomed the opportunity he had been given “to disseminate völkisch-soziale ideas among Communist idealists”, he could not allay his distaste for the Party’s many Jewish leaders- nor could he shake the suspicion that the Schlageter line was in reality merely a cynical bluff intended to trick nationalists into supporting a party that would ultimately subordinate their country to rule from Moscow. Reventlow in the end, like so many national-revolutionaries with anti-capitalist convictions, concluded that the cause of national and social liberation had no real future in a movement which took its marching-orders from an alien power.


Moeller van den Bruck, ‘the man who invented the Third Reich’

Another nationalist drawn into engaging with the Schlageter line was conservative-revolutionary philosopher Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. Moeller was an intellectual, a man of artistic disposition who had made his name as a translator of Dostoevsky, an idealist whose struggles with depression and alcoholism led him to an early grave. Following the Great War he became active in nationalist-conservative politics, helping to found the fabled Juniklub and writing numerous articles advocating a revitalized conservatism which would be revolutionary, socialistic, oriented towards the East, and able to destroy the “unholy power” of liberalism. His magnum opus was Das Dritte Reich (‘The Third Reich’), a book which popularized the concept of a Third Reich in nationalist circles and which was published in the same year – 1923 – as Radek’s speech.

Moeller, like Reventlow, was far less amenable to the KPD strategy than his writings might have suggested. In Das Dritte Reich he wrote approvingly of Soviet Russia, weaving a vision of the Bolshevik experiment as a form of Eastern National Socialism:

Every people has its own socialism. The Russian socialism of the Revolution gave birth to the militarism of the Soviets. Those same millions who broke off the War because they wanted peace and only peace, allowed themselves to be formed into a new red army. There came a moment when the only factories in the country that were still at work were the munition factories. The Russian bowed his head in patient acceptance of the severe militarism of a new autocracy… [H]e welcomed the autocracy of socialism; he had asked for it; he accepted it, Bolshevism is Russian, and could be nothing else.

Yet Moeller was also deeply suspicious of Radek and his fellow wanderers into the void, despite Radek’s best attempts to flatter the German into acquiescence. Radek declared Moeller’s journal Gewissen (‘Conscience’) to be “the only thinking journal of German nationalistic circles”. Radek also extended explicit invitations to Moeller to submit articles for Rote Fahne on the subject of the Schlageter speech. There is some circumstantial evidence, too, that Moeller and Radek met in person at least once, perhaps multiple times. In every way possible the wily Bolshevik appeared determined to win Moeller’s praise. Yet Moeller never seemed willing to grasp the proferred hand of friendship.

Through July of 1923 Moeller instead responded to Radek by publishing three long articles outlining his major objections to the Schlageter line. Moeller could not commit himself to a dictatorship of the proletariat, nationalist or not; the proletariat, in his eyes, were not capable of leadership. Nor did Moeller see the capitalism of the post-War era as deserving the apocalyptic elimination demanded of it by the Bolsheviks; capitalism was now more “socially-cohesive”, requiring only a socialistic veneer of corporatism to remove its last few traces of exploitation. Finally, Moeller seemed to waver on his previous demands for a German-Soviet alliance; now that such a prospect seemed more concrete, he suddenly saw in it various threats apparently posed by the French. Every way Radek turned, Moeller was there to meet him with a rejection and a shake of the head. As one of the most prominent pro-Soviet figures in the nationalist camp, Moeller’s refusal to accept Radek’s suggestion that he stake his claim to the KPD’s National Bolshevism can only be seen as a significant failure on Radek’s part.


Things Fall Apart

The failure of the Schlageter line was not only limited to Radek’s inability to win over high-profile nationalists. Despite the meetings and speeches, despite the flurry of articles and pamphlets, despite the clandestine trafficking of weapons and ammunition, there was significant opposition to the campaign within the ranks of both the völkisch and the communist camps.

Although nationalist sentiment among the German proletariat could be quite powerful, many rank-and-file communists were as suspicious of the new strategy of collaboration as the “Fascisti”. Regardless of which strident announcements were printed in the Rote Fahne or what abstract theoretical concepts were discussed and lectured on by their intellectuals, ordinary communist workers could not so easily put aside years of class conflict to embrace those they had always seen as their enemies. They were never as eager or willing as their leaders  to become wanderers into the ideological void.

The nationalists, too, had considerable difficulty taking KPD assertions at face value. Those nationalists who had joined hands with the communists had assured their erstwhile enemies that they would join them wholeheartedly in their battle against capitalism and imperialism if they got rid of their Jewish leaders. This, of course, never happened – it never could have happened. Radek, the architect of the National Bolshevik strategy, was Jewish. Many eminent KPD leaders were Jewish. Even if, somehow, these had been sidelined or removed from the Party, the KPD purified and made purely German, the problem still would have remained that many of the Russian leaders were Jewish. Marx was Jewish. Bolshevism, in the eyes of “the gentlemen of the völkisch camp”, would always be innately Jewish. This was an insurmountable obstacle.

The end-result of this ingrained mutual distrust was a kind of political schizophrenia. While communist leaders engaged in a civilized exchange of ideas with their nationalist counterparts, violence on the streets continued to escalate. In part this dichotomy was borne out of the difficult position the KPD had placed itself in: on the one hand it was trying to appeal to nationalists by carrying out Radek’s Schlageter line, while on the other it was still trying to win over those workers in the camp of the Social-Democrats (SPD). In part the dichotomy was also caused by the growing strength of the NSDAP, especially in Bavaria. Not only did the National Socialists recruit from the same working-class constituency as the communists (often with great success), but their refusal to engage with the Schlageter line meant that they were not party to any kind of nationalist-communist truce.

Violence was therefore inevitable, particularly as the KPD at the time saw the solution to both problems – recruiting from the SPD and combating the NSDAP – as lying in the activities of its paramilitary of the period, the Proletarian Hundreds. Activist propaganda was regarded as a very effective recruiting tool, and the activists in the Proletarian Hundreds were among those communists least likely to regard the “fascist bandits” as allies-in-waiting. This led to some bizarre situations, such as the following appeal to radical nationalists being disseminated by the Party press only a few days before a KPD-organized Anti-Fascist Day demonstration on July 29th:

The Entente and the Jews are characterized by the Völkisch as the only exploiters of the German people. Without doubt the Entente capitalists exploit the German working masses and without doubt Jewish capitalists fatten themselves exploiting the German people.

The nationalists, too, gave as good as they got, and street battles only became more commonplace as July pushed on into August. What was more, as the communists involved in the Schlageter campaign came to observe, they constantly seemed to be on the back foot when compared to the nationalists they were attempting to convert, and the nationalists knew it. There was a sense that the nationalists, despite being a less organizationally unified force, were stronger, more passionate, and had far greater popular support – meaning, in essence, that despite the KPD’s intentions it was the forces of ‘Reaktion’ who were more often than not exerting attraction over the communists rather than the other way around.

The reality is that the Schlageter line was a failure, the project having been almost entirely abandoned by the end of August. No real revolutionary collaboration in the Ruhrkampf had been accomplished, and no major wedge had been driven between Germany and the West. Radek was reluctant to give up his attempts at diplomacy, but in the face of mounting dissatisfaction from the rank-and-file and the Comintern’s inability to  keep the German comrades from violent anti-fascist brawling, even he was forced to admit to Moscow that his efforts had ultimately been fruitless. KPD leader Heinrich Brandler’s Rote Fahne article “Schlagt die Faschisten, wo ihr sie trefft” (“Beat the fascists wherever you find them”) was perhaps a final signal to the membership that things were once again back to normal.

What finally laid the last lingering remnants of the Schlageter campaign to rest were the revolutionary upheavals towards the end of 1923. The Hamburg Uprising of October 23 saw the Hamburg KPD, with assistance and planning from the Russian party, attempt to launch a national revolution that would tear down the state and pull Germany into Moscow’s orbit. It was a futile endeavor, but it nonetheless signaled to those few nationalists still laboring under the delusion of völkisch-communist collaboration that the communists were not truly to be trusted. Likewise, the NSDAP’s Bürgerbräukeller-Putsch of 8-9 November provided the same lesson for the communists. The KPD’s earliest flirtation with National Bolshevism effectively ended in a flurry of bullets and two failed revolutions.


Police search workers during the Hamburg Uprising


What was the legacy of Schlageter line? On the face of it, one would assume that it served to do little more than demonstrate the pointlessness of a National Bolshevist strategy in Germany – no real collaboration was accomplished, after all. It is true that Radek’s vision of inflaming the Ruhr Valley with revolution, or at the very least of driving Franco-Belgian forces out of Germany and further away from Russian borders, came to nothing. That perspective, however, would be short-sighted. The reality is that this brief, strange period in the history of German communism in fact had intriguing, far-reaching effects on the German communist movement.

Radek’s failed tactic actually laid the groundwork for future, more successful attempts to win over members of the nationalist camp. The Schlageter line had proven that attempts at direct collaboration were not an area of strength for the KPD, particularly in light of the lopsided popularity of the nationalist movement and the reluctance that völkisch leaders had shown in regards to engaging directly with Marxist goals. Later moves by the KPD onto National Bolshevik ideological ground would either be more grass-roots and more spontaneous, focused on recruiting fascist factory-workers to strikes and demonstrations; or they would focus conversion tactics on more realistic targets than bourgeois veterans or Mittelstanders, such as proletarian SA-men and intellectual NSDAP members disillusioned with their party’s anti-capitalist principles.

The Schlageter line also had a long-term impact on portions of the nationalist camp. Links forged between sections of the KPD and the Freikorps would linger on into the early ’30s, with veteran’s organizations like the Freikorps Oberland developing into pro-communist Rechtsbolschewisten (‘Bolsheviks of the right’). Pro-Soviet sentiments would also remain a feature among a number of militant nationalist organizations, with even arch-reactionary figures like Kapitan Hermann Ehrhardt of the Bund Wiking regarding the Schlageter line’s aim of a German-Soviet imperial alliance as a missed opportunity that should be reignited.

Later visions of a more overtly völkisch  National Bolshevism promoted by nationalist thinkers like Ernst Niekisch, Otto Paetel, and even Otto Strasser, in part owed their inspiration to the theoretical formulations first discussed and debated in the time of the Schlageter strategy. As time went on, as Germany’s situation became more dire and its polity more unstable and untenable, the number of men and women of both the Right and Left willing to re-examine the earlier Schlageter course and take the plunge as wanderers into the void only increased. For many, the belief was that they – and Germany – had nothing left to lose.

Further Reading

  • Agursky, Mikhail. (1987). The Third Rome: National Bolshevism in the USSR. Boulder, USA: Westview Press.
  • Allen, William Sheridan (ed.). (1976). The Infancy of Nazism: The Memoirs of Ex-Gauleiter Albert Krebs, 1923-1933. New York, USA: New Viewpoints.
  • Ascher, Abraham & Lewy, Guenter. (Winter, 1956). National Bolshevism in Weimar Germany: Alliance of Political Extremes Against Democracy. Social Research, 23(4), pp. 450-480. Retrieved from journal URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40982479
  • Fischer, Conan. (1991). The German Communists and the Rise of Nazism. London, UK: Macmillan.
  • Fischer, Ruth. (1948). Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.
  • Jones, Nigel. (1987). The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. London, UK: Robinson.
  • Kershaw, Ian. (1998). Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris. New York, USA: W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Lemmons, Russel. (1994). Goebbels and Der Angriff. Lexington, USA: The University Press of Kentucky.
  • Lerner, Warren. (1970). Karl Radek: The Last Internationalist. Stanford, USA: Stanford University Press.
  • Moeller van den Bruck, Arthur. (1923). Germany’s Third Empire. London, UK: Arktos.
  • Stern, Fritz. (1961). The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology. Berkeley, USA: University of California Press.
  • Tuck, Jim. (1988). Engine of Mischief: An Analytical Biography of Karl Radek. Westport, USA: Greenwood Press.


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