“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.
Hans Zehrer was arriving at conclusions very similar to my own a
about the so-called “Political Left” and the “Political Right.” I can tell that the writings of Arthur Moeller van den Bruck left an impression on him, now that I recently finished reading his book, The Third Reich. We are looking at a man who understood the Weimar-era politics and recognized the need for a kind of Burgfrieden embodied in the Volksgemeinschaft.
This sort of mentality, I feel, is direly needed in today’s political climate. What I see dominating the political climate is a misguided form of “Identity Politics,” a sort of Reactionary phase to the flaws of Liberal Capitalist ideology without recognizing the flaws of Liberal Capitalism for what it is and only pleading for the ideology to finally work for them. Seen from this angle, we are looking at neither a “Class Struggle” nor even a “Clash of Civilizations.” Instead, we are looking at a consumerist culture in a state of decline because of Liberal Capitalism.
All of the Populism which we see in politics nowadays are manifestations of this Identity Politics. There is hardly any alternative ideas or even revolutionary concepts being forwarded, let alone argued in favor of or even against. It is really more of the same politics that we have been seeing for the past fifty years since the rise of “Neoliberalism” (Read: Liberal Capitalism) in the wake of the Stagflation of the 1970s.
I can foresee more political changes coming to world in the 2020s. The only real question I have is what would that entail and will we be seeing signs of a changeover away from Liberal Capitalism?
PS: Before I forget, how are things going with you lately? Are there any upcoming posts for this month? I am always looking forward to reading the next set of posts for July.
Pretty good. Still working on the same projects. The NDPD program will likely be posted next. Not sure what the third monthly article will be at this point – I have a couple of options I’m weighing up, but haven’t made a decision yet.
The NDPD was a relatively minor political party in East Germany if memory serves, Bogumil? Isn’t this the same East German party that was at one point comprised of former Wehrmacht members?
Please let me know, because the NDPD was not a major party throughout the history of East Germany and I am curious as to what sort of political program that they had in mind in East Germany’s early years.
Yep, it was one of the block parties in the National Front. It was partly founded by the government so it would compete with the liberal party (LDPD) and prevent them from getting too popular, and it was partly founded so the state could create an acceptable channel for certain sections of the middle-class and military (old Wehrmacht officers, former low-to-mid-level National Socialists, nationalists who had been in anti-Nazi groups, the petite bourgeoisie) to use to represent their interests within the framework of the socialist state. Their program is interesting. It’s explicitly anti-NS, yet some of its language (and even some of its ideas) is very clearly and openly drawn from National Socialism.
Huh, is that so? From my understanding of the NDPD based on what I was able to gather about them, that party comes across to me as being National Socialist but without Hitlerism.
Could it be that the “National Socialism” espoused by the NDPD happened to be De-Hitlerized? I say “De-Hitlerized” instead of “De-Nazified” because the impression I have gotten out of the NDPD is that the East German and Soviet authorities tried to attract them to the political system in East Germany as an ally instead of an enemy in support of the West and the US.
In fact, I have always wondered to myself how would National Socialism be like if it was removed from Hitlerism or even Strasserism? I am fully convinced that it would not be like Marxism-Leninism or even Trotskyism, but it would become its own version of Socialism in a vein similar to Maoism. I know this sounds outrageous but I cannot help but speculate on that possibility because some of National Socialism’s ideas are Socialistic in nature.
The NDPD was ‘national socialist’ in a loose sense, in that it was a nationally-oriented socialist party. It still accepted the basic Marxist-Leninist worldview and the validity of the DDR’s Soviet-inspired system, though, so it wasn’t really an ideological continuation of the NSDAP. It was intended to be a “safety net for denazificatation”, a way of collecting former National Socialists and far-rightists and transitioning them towards a form of nationalism which was pro-USSR and compatible with Marxism-Leninism. Some of its language could be quite overtly nationalistic, but this was toned down after the ’50s & ’60s. I have a collection of Der Nationale Demokrat (the NDPD’s theoretical journal) from 1975 and it’s quite tame and not very interesting.
There are a few examples. National Socialism as an ideology goes back to the late 1800s. The völkisch-German strain which Hitler joined began in Austria-Hungary in 1903-04, and there were more liberally-oriented NS parties in Germany and among the Czechs at around the same time. I’ve been gathering information for a while on what völkisch-German NS was like pre-Hitler and pre-Strasser – the Sudeten DNSAP and Brunner’s DSP are good examples. Hitler’s impact and influence on the völkisch-German variant of National Socialism was a lot like Lenin’s impact on Social-Democracy – he diverted it away from reformism and towards a much more revolutionary, militant, and authoritarian orientation.
That’s understandable about the NDPD. I did notice the NDPD eventually began to adopt a more moderate stance toward its understanding of “National Socialism” by the 1970s, especially when the pre-1945 generations began to pass away and the post-1945 generations taking their place until East Germany reunited with West Germany in 1990. I have wondered if this was the result of different generational experiences or because the East German authorities were trying to demonstrate to the Soviets (and the West in particular) that they were not a bastion of National Socialism. Based on your conclusions and my insight into the history of East Germany, I am now inclined to believe that it was a case of the latter.
As for the pre-Hitlerist National Socialism, personally, I am of the opinion that any fixation on Antisemitism and Racialism by National Socialism’s Völkisch element is counterproductive to any and all possibilities of its return to political life in this century. The problem is because its Völkisch aspect, its understanding of “Nationalism,” is still mired in the pre-1914 Antisemitism, Chauvinism, and Racialism that began to spread throughout Europe from the 19th century onward. Coupled with the Secularization of European Jews since the Enlightenment, the subsequent treatment of Judaism as a ethnicity rather than a religion by Secular Europeans, and Secularized Jews adopting Liberal Capitalist stances,I can understand how National Socialism as an ideology has been scarred by the Ethnic and Sectarian strife that ravaged Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The result is that National Socialism gets treated as a type of “Fascism” or a “German-only understanding of Socialism” or else “an historical episode which should remain in the 20th century.” Unfortunately, either conclusion is a regurgitation of propaganda directed against National Socialism as a whole, which prevents us from acquiring clues into understanding why various Socialist regimes between the 20th and 21st centuries eventually adopted Nationalistic tendencies over time. I honestly do not view this as a coincidence in the sense that this was done in response to encroaching Western influence, but something more fundamental to Socialism in general from a Sociological standpoint.
Thus, any proper rehabilitation of National Socialism within any part of the German-speaking world eventually needs to address the Völkisch issue by reorienting it away from the absurdities of the so-called “Jewish Question” (which will always do more harm to the ideology’s cause post-1945) and returning it back to the more relevant and contemporary “German Question” (where it would be best served touting the banner of Pan-Germanism) and by extension the “Kaliningrad Question” in regards to the Russian-controlled sliver of East Prussia called the Kaliningrad Oblast.
I understand that this is not a very popular or even acceptable conclusion from various people, regardless of their political stances as of late. Either way, I am convinced that the ideology still has a chance to return someday under a different set of ideals and a different understandings of itself by its adherents.
But what do you think, Bogumil? Does National Socialism still have a chance to change and reform itself into something different, yet keeping its Socialistic and some of its Völkisch principles intact in some form or another?