“The way of the future involves bringing together the man of the Right with the man of the Left” – a brief 1932 article by conservative-revolutionary intellectual Hans Zehrer
Hans Zehrer is somewhat of an obscure figure today, at least in comparison with like-minded members of the German national-revolutionary movement such as Ernst Niekisch and Karl Otto Paetel, both of whom have managed to acquire a greater degree of modern celebrity in certain online circles. This is perhaps unfair to Zehrer, who was undoubtedly more widely-known than both during the crucial 1928-1933 period in Germany; certainly he was more influential. Born in 1899, Zehrer fought in the Great War and, after having participated in the 1920 Kapp Putsch, settled down to a fairly respectable life of political journalism. What made Zehrer’s name was his taking over the editorship of foundering national journal Die Tat (‘The Deed’) in October 1929. Die Tat swiftly grew under Zehrer’s stewardship to be the most widely-read political journal in the country, outselling its nearest left-wing competitor by tens of thousands of copies. The key factor in Die Tat’s success was its unique political position. Zehrer and his circle of contributors published detailed critiques of capitalism, advocating its replacement by a mercantilist system of mass nationalization, stringent autarchy, and exclusionary tariff barriers. They rejected not only the concept of parties, but the entire Left-Right divide altogether, arguing instead for a ‘Third Front’ alliance between all militant forces from far-left to far-right. They were also elitists, rejecting the NSDAP for its plebeian roots and its ‘mass party’ character, desiring instead a “revolution from above” led by the army and the President. The high point for Zehrer probably came during the short-lived government of ‘social general’ Kurt von Schleicher, where Zehrer became the Schleicher regime’s ideological ‘man behind the throne’ and Die Tat served as a kind of unofficial journal of state policy. The short article below, taken from a 1932 edition of Die Tat, is a fairly typical example of Zehrer’s position on the ‘Left-Right’ issue, invoking as it does the unifying Volksgemeinschaft ideal as well as stressing the belief that in reality only superficial qualities separate “the man of the Right” from the “man of the Left”.
Right or Left?
First published in Die Tat, vol. 23, no.7, 1932
We ask of ourselves that question which is imposed upon us by today’s era and which appears to be of decisive importance to it: Right or Left? We have guided these absolutely time-bound and, to a later age, surely incomprehensible antitheses back to their authentic intellectual and historical foundations. In the process they have steadily dissipated, been drawn further and further inwards, and in this way we have suddenly arrived at a position which offers us the prospect of something that we only truly experienced for a short period in August 1914, but which otherwise does not belong among those values that today’s System can offer us: a Volksgemeinschaft, a unified nation!1 And from this position we are able to answer that question which the era has posed to us: Right and Left! Only a style of thinking which has affirmed the synthesis between the two, and which has carried it out, is responsive to those problems which the future will present to us, and over which the current era is presently in despair.
A man today, provided he is an active, vital person, is either Right or Left. The commonality of conservative man – who by his nature, traditions, blood, and character could never recognize the current System – with the new men of the Left, whom the current System has chewed up and spat out, is greater, and both are much closer, than they realize. The way of the future involves bringing together this man of the Right with the man of the Left, and vice versa, in order to create out of both a new Volksgemeinschaft under the mythos of a new nation.
Are they both truly opposed, theoretically and ideologically? If one examines their position on the world economy, do not both affirm the idea of a closed, national economic zone [Wirtschaftsraum]? Look at their state ideology. Do the Corporate State and the Council State2 not share much common ground, and does not the future form of state lie in the direction of a synthesis between both into a third form? Do both not have the same position on the principle of war, that great weapon of the nation? And is old conservatism’s conception of life really so far removed from the concept of property on the Left?
Of course, the path ahead will be a long one, and while the System of Liberalism cannot vigorously fight back against this ideal, because it is already at its end, the organizations on the Left and the organizations on the Right can do so, because this ideal would clearly mean the end for them. “Here a Volk waits for its awakening, anticipating the signal to begin,” wrote Moeller van den Bruck, who came to grief through the lethargy of his Volk and whose life ended in suicide.3 But even now it is still the case with us that those who belong together have antagonistically distanced themselves from one another. Everywhere there are misconceptions, prejudices, and resentments – revolutionary here, reactionary there. The nation is separated into two halves, even though it faces a single fate. The masses are blocking its course, and only by detouring around the mass crisis, it seems, will we reach the point where that same turmoil which is tearing us apart will once more throw into visibility the values of nationality, such that even the proletariat is willing to accept them for the sake of the Nation.
1. The early months of Germany’s involvement in WWI were characterized by an incredibly strong sense of community and togetherness within the German nation, with even the majority of the Social-Democrats – often antagonistic towards the imperial state and the bourgeois classes – coming together with the rest of the nation in fervent, patriotic support of the war effort. This sense of collective unity was known as “the spirit of August 1914”, and it gave Germans the feeling that the old antagonisms of class and party had been swept aside in implicit recognition of something far greater, the Nation. As the Kaiser put it at the time: “I recognize no parties, but only Germans.” The idea of a Volksgemeinschaft (a classless “peoples’ community”) predated the War, but after 1918 it became bound up with that sense of national solidarity which many had experienced in the early months of 1914 and which many, in a Germany torn apart by division and surrender and economic catastrophe, longed to return to. While the National Socialists linked the Volksgemeinschaft ideal closely to an identity based on ties of shared blood-kinship, the concept was popular across the political spectrum and was invoked by some members of the Left, as well as by members of the national-revolutionary milieu like Zehrer.
2. ‘Council-State’ – Rätestaat in German. A reference to the Soviet system, aka ‘council communism’. The November 1918 Revolution in Germany had been characterized by an attempt to establish a new German state run by a system of workers’ and soldiers’ councils, similar to the Russian Soviets. The idea of councils as an alternative to parliament remained popular among members of the Left and, interestingly, among members of the Right – advocacy for a nationalist Rätestaat appears occasionally within National Socialist writings and was advocated especially by National Bolshevists.
3. Arthur Moeller van den Bruck (b.1876 – d.1925) was one of the most important intellectual figures on the interwar German right; his writings and ideas had a huge impact on the entire national-revolutionary movement, and his name was frequently invoked as a kind of call-to-arms (particularly by Otto Strasser and his followers). The quote here is taken from Moeller’s seminal work Das dritte Reich, which is credited with popularizing (if not inventing) the concept of the “Third Reich”. Moeller’s 1916 book Der Preußische Stil should also be mentioned, as alongside Spengler’s Prussian Socialism it was one of the major inspirations behind the concept of ‘Prussianism’ (in particular the Prussian sense of collective duty and service) as a nationalistic form of socialism. Moeller, who was an alcoholic and (reportedly) dependent upon morphine, took his own life in 1925.