Heinrich Laufenberg’s and Fritz Wolffheim’s 1921 appeal to the German proletariat on behalf of their national-bolshevist ‘League of Communists’
Heinrich Laufenberg and Fritz Wolffheim (whose work has been featured on this blog before) were two of the earliest advocates of a ‘National Bolshevik’ policy in German politics. Both men played prominent roles in the workers’ and soldiers’ councils which sprang up in the wake of the 1918 November Revolution, distinguishing themselves as leaders within the ultra-left ‘syndicalist’ wing of Hamburg’s communist scene. Their national-bolshevist sympathies developed gradually, spurred into being largely as a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, which piqued their sense of nationalism and which was interpreted by them as an act of imperialist exploitation from the ‘plutocratic’ Entente. Laufenberg and Wolffheim saw the solution to Germany’s misery in a revolutionary socialist state, based on a system of grassroots councils, in which the working-class would take a leading role and would be supported by ‘productive’ members of the bourgeois middle-classes, who could be won over to socialism by appealing to their nationalism. In April 1920 the two friends took this worldview into the newly-formed Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD), a council-communist party. Although the KAPD’s Hamburg branch saw considerable success under their leadership, their “nationalist tendencies” were controversial, and the party-leadership expelled them in August 1920. The two men subsequently formed the ‘League of Communists’ to continue propagating their national-bolshevist line. This small organization’s main focus was the production and dissemination of propaganda, but it was not without its successes; its ideas had a decent following among Hamburg’s sailors and dockworkers, and the League’s related ‘Free Association for the Study of German-Communism’ developed influential ties within military and völkisch-intellectual circles. The short leaflet below, put out by the League in July 1921, represents most of the core themes in Laufenberg’s and Wolffheim’s thought during this period: nationalist-inspired support for the German uprising against the Poles in Silesia; strong opposition to Versailles and to French and British commercial-imperial interests; Marxist anti-capitalism; anti-parliamentarism; and the need to develop joint workers’ organs transcending the existing socialist/communist parties. Most of these ideas remained central to Wolffheim’s ideology (Laufenberg retired from politics in 1922) even as his nationalism in following years became more explicitly völkisch; his League, always small in size, ended up an appendage of Paetel’s ‘Group of Social-Revolutionary Nationalists’ in the early 1930s.
Appeal from the League of Communists
to the German Proletariat!
The cowardly gunshots to which the socialist deputy Gareis1 fell victim after being ambushed in Munich; the organized incitement of murderous violence against leading personalities of the workers’ movement; the rallying of the Orgesch2 in Bavaria and Silesia; the monarchist demonstrations which are growing more brazen by the day – these are all symptoms of the fact that the monarchist counter-revolution sees the time drawing near when it can re-establish the old monarchy and the old military dictatorship through the suppression of the German working-class. In this situation – which gravely threatens the entire German working-class and, at the same time, the world proletariat – the League of Communists considers itself obligated
to call upon the entirety of the German working-class
to transcend the dividing lines of the existing parties in order to
seek a common line of orientation and a common route of action.
At the center of the domestic and foreign political dangers threatening the German Revolution is the incursion of bands of Polish insurgents into Upper Silesia. The German working-class has widely recognized, notwithstanding the trivial phraseology coming from the KAPD,3 that the threatened population there cannot be denied the right to self-defence and to safeguard their native soil. Furthermore, the entirety of the German Revolution categorically and unequivocally recognizes the duty of national defence. When it comes to an economic region which belongs to Germany both culturally and according to the will of the vast majority of its population, there the participation of the working-class in Silesia’s self-defence is a matter of course. In their desire to exploit a national imperative for certain nationalist purposes, however, the monarchist cliques and the chauvinist thugs within the Orgesch have used the legitimate self-defence efforts going on in Silesia as an excuse to bring together a battalion of mercenaries4 there whose duty has nothing to do with national defence. The threat to the Republic which this concentration of mercenary forces poses is amplified by the Orgesch-backed authoritarian regime in Bavaria,5 whose government emerged out of the Kapp Putsch and which is openly preparing for monarchist restoration throughout Germany.
Bavarian politics under the leadership of Herr von Kahr deliberately makes use of the divisions at work in Germany between the competing imperialist interests of the French and English great powers, in order to create a counterrevolutionary Germany which is able to negotiate political and economic deals through the skillful exploitation of these differences. The French-English game of interests being played in Upper Silesia is merely a reflection of the greater world-political antagonisms within which English and French politics operate. The preservation and consolidation of French Imperium requires the monopolistic control over all German coal basins, as well as the creation of a federation of Danubian states under French suzerainty in order to secure the overland route from France to its spheres of interest in Asia. Poland and Greece would serve as flank protection for this imperialist stage route. English Imperium will be threatened at its very heart – in India and at the Suez Canal – if this French policy is implemented to its fullest extent, with France taking up the imperialist legacy of Germany in order to set an enormous wedge against India stretching from Boulogne to the Persian Gulf, while at the same time threatening England’s position in the western and eastern Mediterranean. England, in Germany and in its attitude towards France’s sweeping demands under the Versailles Treaty, seeks to counteract French policy in order to secure its position in northern Germany while also curbing Polish ambitions, a strategy which would permit a sustained counteraction against France’s Danube policy. A German monarchy based on the complete elimination of the revolutionary interests of the working-classes would therefore be the only guarantee for both countries that a German policy determined by the interests of the German Volk would not throw all their calculations into disarray. A consolidated counterrevolution in Germany with a monarchist vanguard – this would lead to Germany’s integration into the imperialist League of Nations and its involvement in all the conflicts which divide the League of Nations.
Working in conjunction with Herr von Kahr there is also Herr Stinnes,6 whose operations make generous use of his intimate knowledge of political and economic conditions. By reviving his old economic policy in the West he is attempting to consolidate the German, Belgian, and French coal basins into a single international syndicate. Through a heightened monopolization and concentration of the German economy, through his concession policy towards Russia and Austria, he is preparing for an economic bloc with the East which would, at the moment of Germany’s admission into the League of Nations, tip the balance of power between the interests of Anglo-American trusts and the continental European economic cartel. The restoration of the monarchy via the reestablishment of the old military dictatorship would be the political apotheosis of this economic edifice – an edifice which, if it is not to be subjected to shattering blows from the international labor movement, is dependent upon the suppression and disenfranchisement of the German working-class. A German monarchy with a Wittelsbach in Munich and Berlin would would at the same time provide a suitable balance for competing Anglo-French interests, since the southern German interests of France and the northern German interests of England would find their mediator in the person of the monarch. For the German Volk this development would mean: permanent departure from the world-historical stage, as well as the Volk’s transformation into a colonial labour pool for international finance capital, subjugated under national capitalist groups and the sham authority of a hereditary nobility.
Since the Kapp Putsch proved beyond doubt that the moment has not yet come for Herr Stinnes’s plans to reach their fulfilment, he has for the time being contented himself with the political consolidation of the counterrevolution in Bavaria, and with a simultaneous preparation in the Reich and Prussian parliaments, in order to secure a military base from which a new violent strike against the democratic Republic is ensured the highest probability of success. Viewed in this light, the gathering of Orgesch mobs in Silesia indicates both a broadening of this military base as well as a military encirclement of the important industrial basin of Saxony, in which a socialist government is still today at the helm.7 To anyone capable of seeing these correlations it will probably be clear that, from Herr Stinnes’s point-of-view, the Spartacist harlequinade in central Germany had but one flaw – that it could be liquidated by constitutional means. The centralization of the Reichswehr, the imposition of a state of siege over the entire Reich, the consolidation of every means of military power into the hands of a single general, as was demanded by the Stinnes press day after day, would have spared Herr Stinnes the need for a new Kapp Putsch. English politics, which were actively involved in the first Kapp Putsch via the mediation of a certain Trebitzsch-Lincoln,8 would also have gladly accepted this fait accompli, as they are willing in any case to back Herr Stinnes against the far too demanding claims of the French; Herr Stinnes favors the English line as an additional counterbalance against his economic collaboration with French commercial interests.
The liquidation of the last Spartacist putsch and the growing accumulation of mercenary gangs in Silesia has created a deadlock in German domestic politics which one way or another must be overcome. The counterrevolution is rushing its
parliamentary preparations for the coup d’état
forwards at high speed, while it openly announces, via Prussian Minister-President Herr Stegerwald’s mouth,9 that it does not have the least intention of limiting itself solely to parliamentary methods. At the Reich level the working-class have been practically neutralized in spite of the participation of Social-Democratic ministers; in Prussia the Social-Democrats have been forced out of government; while the governments of the Länder, with the exception of Bavaria, have been rendered powerless through their exclusion from command over the Reichswehr. In contrast to the unflinching will-to-power of the counterrevolution, which recognizes parliamentary methods only insofar as they serve its substantive interests, the labor movement still suffers from an overestimation of parliamentary methods, something which gives the division of the working-class into parties its actual substance. From a parliamentary perspective, the working-class today – almost three years after the Revolution was completed – is almost completely powerless, whereas the counterrevolution bolsters its parliamentary position with the real instruments of power: the old bureaucracy, their collective capitalist economic interests, and the Reichswehr. While the division of parties does not affect the bourgeoisie in realpolitikal terms, alongside the split into parties the working-class still also lacks any unified organ of class-will.
So long as this state of affairs persists, it precludes any possibility of a definitive victory for the working-class; instead, every apparent parliamentary success actually harbors within itself the sure certainty of forthcoming defeat. The greatest parliamentary success conceivable, and the one direction towards which current developments seem to be headed, would be a pure socialist government in the Reich and in the major Länder. This “pure socialist government” is only possible as a cartel of the three socialist parties10 through their collectively taking over the government in order to achieve the “United Front” of the proletariat. This form of socialist government would from the beginning have the members and supporters of all other parties against it, and would thereby – based upon the ideological division of the Volk – monstrously exacerbate the danger of civil war. The radicalization of working-class thinking would keep pace with this worsening of the internal situation, and the consequence would be that the United Communist Party11 would very soon usurp the leadership within the United Front in order to reflect their acquired supremacy over the masses within the government. Given the essentially putschist attitude of the so-called Communist Party, whose conception of the revolutionary dictatorship of their party-bureaucracy finds its expression in the Russian-Bolshevist model, the Social-Democratic parties would very soon become captives to the putschist will of the VKPD, and the certain result of this would be the bloody downfall of the entire working-class through a counter-attack from every strata and every group among the Volk, to whom any regime would seem more bearable than the terrorist dictatorship of Spartacist party violence.
The Kapp Putsch has proven that the working-class has the strength to rebuff an attempted coup by pooling all their means of power; at the same time, it has also proven that the working-class immediately split apart again as soon as the goal of common defence has been achieved. So long as the working-class lacks a uniform organ of class-will, then the most favourable outcome of any joint defence by them in the future can only consist of the cooperation of the socialist parties, an eventuality that will inevitably lead to the “pure socialist government” described above.
The League of Communists considers itself obligated to point out to the entire German working-class that the victory of socialism can only be achieved if the working-class is in the position to protect the interests of all the productive layers of the Volk above the special interests of their own parties, thereby also protecting truly national interests. This means that the working-class must be aware of the fact that the victory of socialism is about the creation of a completely new state, that it constitutes the establishment of a completely new organization representing the entire Volk, that it involves the infusion of the nation’s entire intellectual life with a new fundamental cultural attitude, that the common interests of the entire Volk must be the basis for the political action of the working-class. This is the reason why communists12 should refuse to form a special party in competition with the existing workers’ parties, in accordance with the revolutionary policy of Marx and Engels in 1848. They appeal to the entire working-class in order to assert the collective interests of the working-class and the entire Volk, as opposed to the special interests of the parties. The collective interests of the entire Volk call for the socialist reorganization of state, economy, and nation, because only through this will it be possible to forge the forces of the entire Volk into a cohesive unity in the face of conflicting, nationally-divisive special interest groups. But this task requires the working-class to recognize that in the midst of the revolution the methods of the pre-revolutionary period are no longer sufficient; that when it comes to the organization of the entire Volk, only the organization of self-government in every region, realized through the organs of the working-class, can be the foundation of the new state structure – not the centralist apparatus of political parties. However, the prerequisite for the implementation of every socialist objective is the achievement of working-class unity, at the very least in terms of political action, a unity beyond the boundaries of the parties and specialist organizations which are still divisive today.
Despite all the divisions among parties and specialist organizations, the working-class is still a socio-economic unit, even if it is not an ideological one. It is unified in its real interests, which call for the surmounting of the capitalist economy of the capitalist state along with its social order. The unity of the working-class must come to the fore everywhere where the interests of the entire class are put at risk; it must rise above the ideological differences of the individual groups and factions from which the formal split of the organizations originally emerged. Not since the Revolution has this been as vitally necessary as it is now, when the counterrevolution is gathering all its forces for a unified crushing blow and when it is also, at the same time, seeking to intensify the formal disunity of the working-class through various channels. We know that ideological ties from previous eras reverberate for a long time within a mass movement, and that ideological disparities within such large masses as those which comprise the German labor movement cannot be eradicated through simple propaganda. And that is why the various organizations among which the working-class is currently fragmented will continue to exist in parallel for a long time to come. But what is urgently needed, and what has also actually become possible today, is the creation of unified organs of the entire working-class in spite of its current fragmentation, organs which will enable the working-class to achieve a uniform orientation and to arrive at a uniform class-will in every circumstance where the interests of the entire working-class come under danger from a common threat. The League of Communists therefore calls upon the working masses of all parties and all organizations to work within their organizations to ensure that collective organs are formed in all municipalities, districts, and economic regions by delegates; these organs should discuss the political situation in regular meetings in order to identify suitable guidelines and slogans according to which the entire working-class of a municipality, district, and economic region can act in unison during times of danger for the working-class. These delegate bodies can only be organs of the pure workers’ movement, without any connection to the institutions of the existing state. Their members must feel that they represent the entire working-class, and must be capable of acting in a given situation, to the best of their knowledge and their conscience, as the interests of the entire working-class dictate.
The decisive phase of the German Revolution has begun. The victory of the monarchy means your definite enslavement for the foreseeable future. Your victory, however, is dependent upon whether you have it within yourselves to establish organs which represent your uniform will and which make it possible for you, at the given moment, to bring your will and all your strength with it to bear, taking political leadership upon yourselves in order to liberate the country and the Volk from capitalist ruination – in other words, whether you are determined to walk that path which leads to socialist society, to communism, and to freedom.
Hamburg, 20th June, 1921.
League of Communists, Political Propaganda-Group Hamburg
Heinrich Laufenberg, Fritz Wolffheim.
1. Karl Gareis (b.1889 – d.1921) was a prominent politician of the Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD) and a member of the Bavarian Landtag. A strong pacifist and political moderate, Gareis was an outspoken critic of the buildup of quasi-official military forces within Bavaria; state-backed paramilitary forces as an adjunct to the army were technically illegal as they went against the strictures of the Versailles Treaty. Gareis was murdered outside his home on the night of June 9, 1921, by members of Organization Consul, a nationalist terrorist movement with strong ties to the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt Freikorps division.
2. Orgesch is a portmanteau of “Organization Escherich”, a paramilitary group named for Georg Escherich, a conservative Bavarian politician and forester who was the group’s founder and patron. Established in May 1920, the Orgesch swiftly grew to several hundred thousand members in Bavaria, its principal stronghold, and built up cells in other Länder throughout the Reich. Ostensibly a “protective association” established to protect the German people and their traditional institutions from communist and socialist violence, the Orgesch’s monarchist ideology and its ties to the conservative Bavarian Peoples’ Party made it an object of great concern for German socialists. The Social-Democratic (SPD) led Reich government actually forced through a ban on the Orgesch a month before this document was published, and the group had split up into smaller paramilitaries using different names; the authors are referring to these splintered groups (and other nationalist paramilitaries) collectively when they use the term “Orgesch.”
3. KAPD – The Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, Communist Workers’ Party of Germany. The KAPD was founded in April 1920 in the aftermath of the Kapp Putsch by ultra-leftists expelled from the Comintern-backed Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The KAPD was a council-communist party, rejecting participation in elections and any involvement in the bureaucratized, reformist trade-unions which predominated in Germany and which were primarily associated with the SPD. Instead the KAPD advocated the active destruction of the existing trade-unions (viewed as a barrier to the creation of a socialist state, as they “propped up” capitalism by reforming it), supported syndicalist ‘factory organizations’ (such as the General Workers’ Union of Germany, AAUD, with which it was closely allied) instead, and encouraged the creation of cross-tendency workers’ councils which would form the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Laufenberg and Wolffheim had been leaders of the Hamburg branch of the KAPD, but were expelled from the Party in August 1920 due to their “nationalist tendencies”, despite the fact that both leaders were popular and the Hamburg branch very successful under their direction. Their bitterness towards the KAPD as a result occasionally comes through in their writings.
4. “A battalion of mercenaries” – in the original German, “Gewalthaufen von Landesknechten.” This translates literally to “a pike square of lansquenets.” A “pike square” was a military formation from the 15th century consisting of a 10×10 group of pikemen. The “lansquenets” or “Landesknechten” (lit. “servants of the land”) was the German name for the pike-bearing mercenary troops widely-used as military forces in the Holy Roman Empire. “Battalion of mercenaries” was chosen as the English translation for reasons of legibility.
5. A reference to the state government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr (b.1862 – d.1934), Minister-President of Bavaria at the time this document was published. Kahr, a member of the monarchist and Catholic-conservative Bavarian People’s Party, was a patron of the German far-right, turning Bavaria into a “cell of order” within the Reich by allowing it to be a safe-haven for far-right, nationalist, and völkisch parties and paramilitaries. Kahr was one of the three Bavarian leaders who later turned against Hitler during the 1923 ‘Night of the Long Knives’; he was arrested by the SS on June 30, 1934, and murdered in Dachau as retribution for this.
6. Hugo Stinnes (b.1870 – d.1924) was a German industrialist and conservative, and a great hate-figure for socialists and communists in the early years of the Weimar Republic. Stinnes had extensive ownership over a network of vast mining, steel, coal, power, and transport companies; he was also a co-founder of the center-right German People’s Party (DVP) and the owner of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s equivalent of the UK Times.
7. Saxony at this time was being governed by a SPD-USPD coalition led by Prime Minister Wilhelm Buck (b.1869 – d.1945, SPD). The nationalist concern about Saxony mentioned here was not entirely unfounded. The next government after Buck’s was an SPD-KPD coalition led by Erich Zeigner (b.1886 – d.1949, SPD). Zeigner’s government proved to be remarkably radical, with the Prime Minister encouraging the formation of paramilitary “workers’ defence organizations” and “proletarian hundreds”, which began pillaging the countryside, attacking patriotic groups, plundering shops, and dispersing their own form of violent “justice” against employers they deemed guilty of exploitation. Zeigner’s inability to control the situation, the escalation in food shortages, the growth in public disorder, and the increasing fury of the middle-classes, led to Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert (himself a Social-Democratic) declaring a state-of-emergency and sanctioning the Reichswehr marching into Saxony to overthrow the government by force.
8. Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln (b.1879 – d.1943) was a Hungarian Jew who had moved to the UK in the early 1900s and become a Liberal member of the House of Commons in 1910. Trebitsch-Lincoln was a swindler, con-man, spy, and political adventurer, who was involved in a range of criminal, business, and diplomatic activities throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas during the course of his life (including spells as an Anglican minister and Buddhist monk). During the Kapp Putsch he somehow ended up in Berlin and took on the role of Press Chief for the short-lived putschist government of Wolfgang Kapp (b.1858 – d.1922). In this role he briefly and famously encountered Dietrich Eckart and Adolf Hitler, who had flown to Berlin in a sport plane to view the new military government firsthand. Upon discovering that the Kapp government had a Jew at its center, Eckart responded with revulsion: “Come, Adolf, we have no further business here,” and Hitler agreed that no revolution with a Jew in its midst could be a true “national revolution” (both quickly washed their hands of the Kapp Putsch). Laufenberg’s and Wolffheim’s belief that Trebitsch-Lincoln’s role in the Putsch indicates its connection to the British government is probably mistaken, given Trebitsch-Lincoln was an inveterate con-man, swindler, and habitual liar.
9. Adam Stegerwald (b.1874 – d.1945) was a Centre Party politician and a leading organizer of the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, the Christian trade-union organization. He served as Prime Minister of Prussia from April to November 1921.
10. “The three socialist parties” – By this the authors mean the major left-wing parties in Germany at the time: the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD), and the then-named Unified Communist Party of Germany (VKPD).
11. “United Communist Party” – In December 1920 the USPD split over the issue of whether the party should join the Comintern, with the vast left-wing of the party leaving to join the KPD. The KPD subsequently renamed itself the ‘United Communist Party of Germany’ (“Vereinigte Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands“), or VKPD, a name it kept until it switched back to the ‘KPD’ moniker in 1922. The USPD itself underwent another split in September 1922, with the vast majority of the party voting to rejoin the SPD (which renamed itself ‘VSPD’ as a result, until reverting back to ‘SPD’ in 1924). Only a tiny core of members decided to continue on independently in the USPD after the second split, but the party foundered in a twilight existence and disappeared entirely when it decided to fold its remaining resources and membership into the Socialist Worker’s Party of Germany (SAPD) in 1931.