Karl Otto Paetel’s 1933 manifesto detailing the tactics and worldview of German ‘National Communism’
Several months ago I posted a translation of the opening chapter of Karl Otto Paetel’s 1933 National Bolshevist Manifesto, which swiftly became one of the most popular things on the site. At the time I indicated that I was in the process of translating the entire document. After several months of work, the translation of Karl Otto Paetel’s National Bolshevist Manifesto is now complete to a degree which I feel satisfied with. It can be downloaded directly from WordPress using the link below:
Or it can be downloaded from the Internet Archive, where I also uploaded a copy.
If you experience any complications or difficulties downloading from either source, please leave a comment or send me an email through the ‘Scuttlebutt’ tab to let me know. As for distribution of the document, I have no problem if people want to host or share it elsewhere online themselves – I don’t expect people to ask my permission first. Once something is on the internet it tends to take on a life of its own, anyway.
Who was Paetel?
Karl Otto Paetel was born into a solidly middle-class Berlin-Charlottenberg family on November 23, 1906. The son of a bookseller, Paetel developed literary and intellectual interests early, and like most youth of his generation his thinking and outlook was deeply affected by the experience of the Great War and Germany’s subsequent post-War travails. The flourishing German Youth Movement, too, had a strong impact on his development – it was Paetel’s involvement in various youth groups that helped reinforce his nationalist sentiments, as well as his appreciation for the comradeship that came with activity within the framework of a tight-knit organization united around a common cause.
In 1928 Paetel enrolled at Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin, studying philosophy and history with the intention of becoming a schoolteacher. Paetel’s studies were brought to an end only five semesters later as a result of his early forays into political activism. Defying a ban on demonstrations, a mass of students descended on the French Embassy in protest against the Treaty of Versailles, Paetel among them. To his shock he soon found himself slung in the back of a police vehicle, stuffed inbetween a Communist youth on one side and a National Socialist doctoral student on the other. The consequence of Paetel’s arrest once the University was alerted was the loss of his scholarship and his subsequent expulsion. With a sudden excess of free time on his hands, Paetel threw himself into journalism, writing articles for a variety of publications. He was particularly attracted to political subjects.
Paetel at this time was still also active within the Youth Movement; by this point in his life he had become a prominent figure within the hierarchy of the youth group Deutsche Freischar, an organization whose culture (initially, at least) complemented his own nationalist sentiments. As he became more politically active Paetel became much more strongly influenced by the ‘new nationalism’ popular at the time, a nationalism that positioned itself in the ‘revolutionary camp’ and rejected the stolidness of the old Wilhelmine era. Inspired by the work of figures such as Ernst Jünger, Ernst Niekisch, and August Winnig, Paetel’s writing adopted an increasingly radical tone, his nationalism becoming imbued with a strong undercurrent of anticapitalism. Yet as Paetel and his writing grew more radical, his position within the Deutsche Freischar became jeopardized. Paetel’s open sympathy for communism, his approving references to Lenin, his declaration that revolutionary young nationalists were the natural allies of the working-classes – these sentiments were a step too far for the Freischar. After writing an article in 1930 which criticized President Hindenburg over Germany’s ratification of the Young Plan, Paetel was forced to resign from his positions within the group.
In May 1930, an increasingly-radicalized Paetel decided to start taking serious political action. For a year he and a number of friends had been working within an informal group called the Young Front Working Circle, an advocacy organization which tried to rally left- and right-wing radicals to join together in common cause. Now Paetel and his comrades chose to reorganize themselves as a formal group with a formal program, seeking to do more than simply try and push members of the NSDAP towards ‘real socialism’. The ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’ (GSRN) they formed subsequently became one of the very few organizations in Weimar Germany which actually used the term ‘National Bolshevist’ to describe itself. Avowedly revolutionary, the GSRN advocated for the overthrow of the democratic-capitalist system, for a new government based on councils, for socialization of industry and land, for a military alliance with Soviet Russia, and for the arming of the masses as a Peoples’ Militia. The GSRN, whose members were, like Paetel, almost all of educated middle-class background, affirmed that it was the task of nationalists to work together with the class-conscious proletariat in pursuit of these goals.
Despite this new sense of purpose, the initial focus of the GSRN – never a very large group – was on publishing and propaganda. An opportunity to engage in more lively action, however, was soon provided by the Left. A debate within the GSRN over whether to support the NSDAP or the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in the September 1930 elections was suddenly resolved with the KPD’s publication of its new party programme, the ‘Programme for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’. This new programme was replete with nationalist language and demands, a deliberate attempt by the KPD to win back voters lost (or potentially lost) to the NSDAP. The GSRN however saw it as potential evidence that the KPD was drifting in a National Bolshevist direction, and so Paetel and his comrades threw their firm support behind the communists.
The GSRN thus became an ally of the KPD. Paetel and his group publicly supported the KPD during the election: writing articles, distributing propaganda, speaking at communist rallies. This cooperation continued on after the election, with the GSRN imploring nationalists to fight side-by-side with the KPD, declaring that only under the banners of communism would Germany be able to crush capitalism and liberate itself from the imperialism of the Versailles powers. GSRN members wrote articles for communist journals, joined KPD organizations like Antifascist Action, and in March and April 1932 they offered public support for the presidential campaign of KPD leader Ernst Thälmann. The KPD, for its part, provided its own form of support at times (such as by assisting in the distribution of the GSRN journal Socialist Nation), but overall the relationship was fairly one-sided.
It was this lack of reciprocity which led to a measure of disillusionment in the GSRN. Paetel came to suspect, quite rightly, that the KPD was hoping to co-opt and absorb his movement. Furthermore, by late 1932 he and his comrades had come to doubt the sincerity of the KPD’s nationalism. As KPD-GSRN relations deteriorated, the ideological divisions between the two groups became more apparent; Paetel and his compatriots could no longer so easily wave away the fact that their end-goal of a nationalist-socialist sovereign German state, allied with but independent of a sovereign Soviet Russia, was fundamentally different to the ultimate goal of the KPD: borderless world communism. Although still pro-communist and supportive of the KPD, this division influenced the GSRN’s tactics, with Paetel attempting to organize a separate National Communist Party to compete in the November ’32 elections – an effort which failed due to the GSRN simply lacking the manpower and resources needed to bring forth a new legal political party.
The National Bolshevist Manifesto was published by Paetel as part of a second attempt to organize a National Communist electoral group, this time during the period in late 1932 to early 1933 when Germany was in a political shambles. The NSDAP was bleeding support, the KPD was gaining votes but struggling with internal factional disputes, and the entire Weimar system seemed on the verge of collapse. Yet events overtook Paetel in a fashion he had not predicted – the Manifesto he had laboured over was first published and distributed on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became Chancellor and victorious, torch-bearing Stormtroopers marched in massed columns through the streets of Berlin. Many of the copies of the Manifesto were confiscated and pulped, Paetel’s publication license was swiftly withdrawn, and the publications of he and his comrades were shut down. The GSRN did not last much longer, being banned along with the other communist and ‘fellow-traveller’ groups in the aftermath of the Reichstag fire.
From that point onwards Paetel experienced significant harassment from the government, particularly as he continued to associate with figures considered unsavoury to the National Socialist regime. His name was included on a black-list of suspected traitors during the events of the June 1934 Blood Purge (the ‘Night of the Long Knives’), and by 1935 things had become so heated that Paetel was forced to flee Germany for his own safety. After some time moving around Europe he ended up in America, where he managed to find employment as an academic and eventually attained citizenship. In his later life Paetel published a number of different works, several of them detailing the history of German National Bolshevism. He died in New York in 1975.
I’m not sure what else there is to add the Manifesto. After tearing my hair out over it in every moment of free time over the last several months, I don’t feel like I have enough distance from it to judge it sufficiently. If I had to make one critique, I’d say it’s a little scant on substantial detail in terms of how Paetel aims to achieve the goals he describes – although towards the end of the document, admittedly, he acknowledges that as the point. The Manifesto was intended as a statement of general worldview and broad tactics, a framework around which Germany’s fractious Weimar-era National-Bolshevist and social-nationalist groups could organize, rather than as a dense theoretical work on how a ‘socialist nation’ would function in practice. Paetel, of course, never got to realize his goal. As described above, copies of the Manifesto were seized and destroyed not long after they were first distributed. The vibrant, sectarian world of scattered little National-Bolshevist groups was completely smashed just a month or so later in the clampdown on communists and communist sympathizers. National Bolshevism, at least in the sense that Paetel envisioned it, died on the vine. Whether that was ultimately a good thing or not I will leave up to the Manifesto’s readers to judge.