Red Front, Brown Front: Karl Otto Paetel’s 1930 article on revolutionary political fronts and the NSDAP’s approach to a potential communist uprising
The essay “Clear Fronts!” was written by social-nationalist intellectual Karl Otto Paetel in that brief 1929-30 period when he was organizer of the ‘Young Front Working Circle’, an informal pressure group whose guiding ideal was the promotion of stronger ties and closer cooperation between radical groups on the far-left and far-right. The bulk of the Young Front’s propaganda efforts were focused on the NSDAP, a party which Paetel and his associates viewed at the time as the most promising vehicle for the achievement of a revolution that would be both socialist and nationalist. While Paetel was never a member of the NSDAP, he nonetheless fostered close ties with it in this period – many of his friends were members of the Party’s radical Berlin-Brandenburg branch, and both the Young Front and its successor organization (the ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’, founded in May 1930) drew much of their membership from disaffected members of the NSDAP’s Strasser faction. Paetel’s relationship with the National Socialists was strong enough that he was a frequent contributor to Party publications despite his lack of membership, primarily to those published by the Strasser-owned Kampfverlag publishing house. The article reproduced below is a good example of this, as its original publication was in the Nationalsozialistiche Briefe, a Kampfverlag theoretical journal. While not technically an official Party publication (the Kampfverlag and its output were kept formally independent in order to distance their association with Hitler) the NS-Briefe was, alongside the official Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, the primary intellectual publication of the German National Socialist movement, and was fairly widely read by nationalist radicals. Paetel’s article calls on these readers not to “misrepresent” the Red ‘front’ and to recognize that the System, rather than the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), is the real enemy of the German Revolution. The author’s criticisms of the KPD and his apparent faith in the NSDAP were not to last. By the end of the year, disillusioned by the NSDAP’s ‘bourgeois’ drift and enthused by the KPD’s apparent ‘nationalist’ course, Paetel would switch his allegiance to the KPD and begin advocating a position more in line with that later expressed in his National Bolshevist Manifesto.
By Karl Otto Paetel
First published in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe, vol. 18, 15 March 1930
Political coalitions or settlements can be the product of rational consideration or tactical measures, but they can also be provided by the political situation itself. Opinions on other political forces only have real value for a movement, one which somehow knows itself to be an exponent of a fundamental spiritual philosophy that is the feature of its time (for only in such movements can one think of being compelled to politics), if they are to a certain degree already in the air and represent the essential concretization of its ideal knowledge.
German Socialism is today faced with two such determinations. Domestically, it is faced with the issue: How should it conduct itself if one day the KPD’s subversive activity, which is ever more clearly being carried out in accordance with Moscow’s directives, attempts to foment “unrest” somewhere as the basis for a proletarian revolution, and the guardians1 of Weimar call out for youth and guns to fight for “peace and order”, to face down “Bolshevism”, and thus to once again pull the chestnuts out of the fire under the black-white-red flags of the Weimar and Versailles dictatorship.
One should be adamantly clear about one thing: If social-revolutionary nationalism and its exponent to the masses, the NSDAP, follows these slogans, then it will have failed in its historical mission of reintegrating the displaced proles into the shared German destiny by ruthlessly implementing a socialist-corporatist system, based on the German nature, via the conflict of the class struggle of labor against international and anti-national capital. A false start in domestic policy in such a situation – an example being compliance under any circumstances with “peace-and-order” slogans – would instead imprint the mark of Cain once and for all upon German Socialists, marking them as the willing or gullible shield-bearers of that finance-capital which dominates the current system even in the judgement of the Democrat Haas,2 and forever blocking that access to the productive proletariat which socialism demands.
The state of “order” as such has never before been a political value; only if there is something valuable in the substance worth preserving does the conservative (=substance-preserving) attitude have a right to master the anarchic, the destructive. But today the situation is clearly as follows: From the two political “wings” – because therein is the plight of the individual felt hardest at first hand, demonstrating the impossibility of the present conditions – a storm is rushing against a System of foreign infiltration, of capitalist and egoistic interests. So, if on one side a practical attempt is made to take the fight to the System, then its opponents on the other have not the least interest in protecting this anti-state.3 The incredibly simple realization that liberal-democracy only survives today because of the mutual binding and tearing apart of revolutionary energies has only gradually taken root, but it must be kept in mind under all circumstances during moments of action from the “Left”.
One should not misunderstand us: We are well aware that with the tactless KPD bossocracy4 in Germany today (who are willing to freely crank up the revolution on the 15th of any arbitrary month according to Moscow’s orders!) no German and no socialist revolution can be achieved, even in the case of an emergency. Even less so with the authors of the Law for the Protection of the Republic.5 Regardless, this fact must at all costs prevent us being misused a second time for men who are not our own, for a state which we hate just as much as do the people standing under the red flag at the barricades. “Arms at the ready!”6 This can be the only slogan for German nationalism at such a moment. And active readiness for that moment where we make the initiative of the downtrodden our own, sweeping away the bossocracy of Moscow and changing course towards German Socialism, to finally win the German Revolution, which will be nationalist and socialist. Not a man for this System when its troubles arise! Any weakening of the System is an opportunity for us! And if the stuffed-shirts [Spießer] thrice wail “Bolshevism” and tremble for the knick-knacks in their dressers, what bother is it to us? This state is no concern of ours. It can protect itself. We are waiting – – – for a different day.
Let us not misrepresent the fronts again! The internal political situation is directly analogous to the current state of foreign policy. There is a disastrous “Bolshevist hysteria” there, too. Through reference to the “bogeyman” in Moscow, the bourgeoisie of every hue and color are today attempting to incite the young members of our circle into acting as the henchmen of world-capital against Russia. Cardinal Faulhaber,7 the Stahlhelm, the Holy Father, and all politically-interested circles of a domineering “Christendom” converge together “under the cross” to sling anathema [Bannfluch] against Russia! – What is that to us? Here, too, there can only be one slogan for German Socialism: do not allow yourself to be bamboozled by the mass-psychosis being cultivated today!
It does not need to be emphasized that, as far as the form of state, etc., is concerned, we are separated from Soviet Russia by a great deal. But, we ask ourselves, what do we gain if we aid and abet capitalist propaganda against a socialist community? What do we gain from supporting Rome’s claims to world power through a mendacious “Christian” propaganda (which is only a smokescreen for political elements, and which thereby supports all the political forces that are directly or indirectly involved in Germany’s enslavement) directed against a state which at least is not among our oppressors, no matter what fault we might otherwise find with it? On the contrary: steer clear of this hustle against Russia, which only obfuscates a clear view of the political opportunities which can undoubtedly lead a German policy closer to Russia than to the Dawes and Young Powers.8 – We will not allow ourselves to be guided by a false sense of solidarity towards political powers in whose breakdown we have a fervent interest, neither in our domestic [innerdeutschen] nor in our European policy:
Neither the red opponents of today’s democratic republic nor the enemy of Western capital, Russia, are to be struck down with any form of help from us. In the current situation both are our allies, so far as is possible, against Weimar, Versailles, and Wall Street. The differences between us will still demonstrate themselves clearly enough. For the time being: Caution! Don’t let the fronts be misrepresented!
2. ‘The Democrat Haas’ – Ludwig Haas (b.1875 – d.1930) was a Jewish-German liberal politician. He held leadership positions in a number of Jewish advocacy groups, and was a co-founder of both the German Democratic Party (DDP) and the pro-republican paramilitary, the Reichsbanner. The exact nature of his “judgement” as referenced by Paetel I could not discover, although clearly it is in the context of criticisms made by Haas regarding the economic situation in Weimar Germany.
3. ‘Anti-state’ – in German ‘Unstaat’. This could alternatively be translated as ‘non-state’. Paetel’s use of the word is intended to denote that he sees the Weimar state as illegitimate, not that the country is in a state of lawlessness.
4. ‘Bossocracy’ – ‘Bonzokratie’ in German. In German the word ‘Bonze’ has a meaning roughly analogous to ‘big shot’ or ‘fat cat’, implying a person in a position of privilege and power (a ‘boss’) who abuses their authority to their own selfish advantage. It was a frequently-used pejorative among Social-Democrats and trade-unionists, who would dismiss as ‘Bonzen‘ those members of the workers’ movement who had become too self-interested and bourgeois (such as establishment SPD politicians). National Socialists also adopted the word, using it to mockingly describe members of the SPD or KPD leadership, or even leveling it critically against certain NSDAP officials. ‘Bonzokratie‘ could also be translated as ‘bureaucracy’, but ‘bossocracy’ captures its contextual meaning better.
5. ‘Authors of the Law for the Protection of the Republic‘ – i.e. the Social-Democrats. The Law for the Protection of the Republic (Republikschutzgesetz) was passed by the Reichstag in 1922, in the wake of the assassination of Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau by nationalist terrorists. Targeted explicitly against radical groups, the Law banned organizations and publications deemed to be against the “constitutional republican state” and introduced harsher penalties for political violence. Although the government which introduced the Law was headed by Chancellor Wirth, a member of the Centre Party, the Law was in large part the responsibility of Social-Democratic Justice Minister Gustav Radbruch and was commonly seen as a product of the SPD. A later, revised version of the Law introduced in December 1929 was likewise heavily influenced by the Social-Democrats – in this case by Minister of the Interior Carl Severing. Whereas the original 1922 Law had been introduced as a direct response to nationalist violence, the 1929 revision of the Law was introduced in the wake of the nationwide banning of the KPD paramilitary, the Red Front Fighters’ League.
6. “Arms at the ready!” – In German “Gewehr bei Fuß stehen!” This is a military idiom which translates literally to “gun by foot!” and essentially means “get ready for battle!” or “arms at the ready!”
7. Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber (b.1869 – d.1952) was a prominent Catholic religious leader in Bavaria. He was notable for his strong anti-communist, anti-radical, and national-conservative political leanings. Although anti-Semitic and hostile to the Weimar state, Faulhaber had played a part in stymying Hitler’s 1923 putsch and thus became an enemy of the Party throughout the ’20s. In coming years he was attacked viciously by the National Socialist press with epithets such as “reactionary”, “pacifist traitor”, “pious Jew-friend”, etc.
8. ‘The Dawes and Young Powers’ – i.e. the powers behind the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, the Western Powers (specifically Great Britain, France, and the United States) who could dictate to Germany over its reparations payments. It was the contention of left-National Socialists and National Bolsheviks that a pro-Western foreign policy on Germany’s part was foolish considering how the Western powers had exploited it through the Versailles Treaty and subsequent reparations plans. Radicals argued (as Paetel does) that Germany had more in common with another power which had suffered due to Western imperialism, and should orient its foreign policy towards that nation – Soviet Russia.