An overview of the Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (ASPD) and the attempt to create a ‘National Social-Democracy’
Throughout the history of the Weimar Republic there were a number of attempts by Social-Democrats to formulate a more nationalist interpretation of their ideology, one which rejected the internationalism inherited from Marx and which replaced Social-Democracy’s focus on the interests of the international proletariat with a focus instead on those of the Nation or the Volk. The Old Social-Democratic Party of Germany (Alte Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, ASPD) was not only such an attempt, it was easily one of the most significant, as it involved active political organization (even involvement in government) rather than just theoretical formulations, speeches, and argument. The ASPD was originally founded in Saxony in 1926 as a consequence of a split within the Saxon branch of the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), with the more radical and more pro-communist ‘Left-Socialists’ on one side, and a minority of more moderate Social-Democrats (including the majority of the party’s elected representatives in the Landtag) on the other. When the radical majority expelled the more moderate minority from the party, the moderates formed the ASPD in response, asserting that their new party would represent the ‘old’, patriotic socialism of the War years, carrying on the tradition and legacy of figures like Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske. In an attempt to give the ASPD firmer ideological direction, two radical mavericks who had also been expelled from the SPD – Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig – were invited to participate, and under their direction the ASPD rapidly evolved into a national-revolutionary party, extolling a nationalist, völkisch-oriented interpretation of Social-Democracy which proved highly controversial within the wider labor movement. Although the Old Social-Democratic Party did not last very long (Niekisch and Winnig, disillusioned, left in 1928, and the remainder of the ASPD rejoined the SPD in 1932), it nonetheless played a significant role in Saxon governance during the late 1920s and represents one of the only real attempts at translating a leftist national-revolutionary programme into parliamentary politics. To give an overview of the development and history of the ASPD, I have transcribed segments from two different academic sources, both by historian Benjamin Lapp. The first, taken from an article which Lapp wrote on the ASPD, details the background and events which led up to the party’s founding. The second, taken from Lapp’s excellent book Revolution from the Right: Politics, Class, and the Rise of Nazism in Saxony, 1919-1933, goes into more detail on the history of the party and the ways in which Niekisch and Winnig took its ideology and tactics in an overtly nationalist, radical direction.
The Background: Social-Democratic Conflict in Saxony
From Benjamin Lapp’s “A ‘National’ Socialism: The Old Socialist Party of Saxony, 1926-32”
Until the nazi Machtergreifung forced the German Social-Democrats to begin a reappraisal of their former beliefs, German Social-Democracy stood in an uneasy relationship to nationalism and the nation-state. According to classical Marxism, at least, the class struggle was privileged over the national community; nationalist ideology was viewed as part of the ‘capitalist system of political repression’. During the Weimar Republic, when the SPD1 was closely associated with the new democracy, the party’s position on the central issue of the relation between class and nation remained ill-defined. In theory, the party remained committed to proletarian internationalism, while in practice its policies often subordinated working-class to national interests – without, however, admitting it. Despite pressures from the revisionist wing of the party, the SPD stubbornly held on to the principle of internationalism and to its own self-representation as a Klassenpartei rather than a Volkspartei.2 Thus, throughout the 1920s, the political right maintained a monopoly on the ‘national issue’. Conservatives and liberals claimed to speak for the Volk and to represent the national interest and the state; the Socialists, despite their close association with the Republic, nevertheless defined themselves as a working-class party.
There was one noteworthy attempt in the 1920s to overcome the Socialists’ hesitant attitude toward the state and to reclaim the national issue by creating an alternative Socialist party that was avowedly nationalist and state-affirming. This attempt took place, surprisingly, in ‘red Saxony’, a region known for its strong Social-Democratic traditions and its left-wing militancy. Rejecting the dogmatic Marxism of the regional party organization, a group of Social-Democrats formed a new Socialist party called, in homage to the legacy of Lasalle, Bebel, and Liebknecht, the Old Social-Democratic Party (ASPD).3 Originating in the right wing of the party as a reaction to the ‘left’ orientation of the Saxon SPD and its united front policies, the ASPD, through its association with the proletarian nationalists Ernst Niekisch and August Winnig, made a reputation as a party of the political right. Within a year of its foundation, the ASPD became known throughout Germany as a novel attempt to create an alternative, ‘national’ socialism.