An early example of national-bolshevist ideological writing by Joseph Goebbels
The writing and speeches of Joseph Goebbels – especially those produced during the ‘Years of Struggle’, before the National Socialist German Workers’ Party attained political power – are particularly instructive in demonstrating the kinds of radicalism which could exist within the Party. Goebbels was always a radical; as a young man he had found an attraction in the unlikely works of August Bebel and Walter Rathenau, and his direct experiences with poverty had sharpened his sense of social justice. Initially drawn to communism, Goebbels’s inability to embrace the internationalist aspects of Marxist ideology led him first to the völkisch movement and then, in early 1925, into the newly reconstituted NSDAP. From the beginning Goebbels represented the more revolutionary side of National Socialism: bitterly opposed to the bourgeois world and its values, proud of his shabby poverty, and aggressively vocal in his belief that it was the socialism in National Socialism which took precedence above all else. His radicalism first led him into an alliance with Gregor Strasser and then, after several years of struggle and disillusionment, into a bitter opposition to the man who had once been his mentor. Even as an enemy of the Strasser brothers Goebbels was still a radical, with much of his effort as Gauleiter of Berlin-Brandenburg in the late ’20s and early ’30s spent attempting to win over the Berlin workers with fiery attacks on capitalism, the bourgeoisie, and the “false socialism” of the Marxists and the Bolshevists. Goebbels’s earliest writings are perhaps some of his most interesting, because in this period his appreciation for communism was still fresh and his ideology was in many respects more National Bolshevist than National Socialist in orientation. The article below, written not long after Goebbels had spoken before a joint meeting of Communists and National Socialists in late 1925, is strong evidence of his views in this early period of activism, when he was most vocal in avowing class-struggle and proletarian liberation as among the chief goals of the National Socialist movement. Addressed to his “friend from the Left” (i.e. the Communist he had debated at the previous meeting), this article was originally published in the October 1925 edition of Gregor Strasser’s Nationalsozialistische Briefe, a left-oriented NS journal of which Goebbels was editor at the time.
National Socialism or Bolshevism?
First published in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe, no. 2, 15th October 1925.
My friend from the Left!
Not as captatio benevolentiae,1 but straight out and without reservations, I confess that I liked you, you are a fine fellow! Yesterday evening I could have carried on debating with you for hours before the thousands of transfixed listeners, because I had the feeling that the fundamental question of our commonalities and our differences was being raised within the forum of the German workers, whom this question ultimately concerns. And it is with the same feeling that I am writing out these lines to you.
You have clearly recognized what is at stake. We have agreed on the causes. No honest, thinking person today would wish to deny the legitimacy of the workers’ movements. It is only a question of the method and the formulation of their final goal. Grown out of need and misery, they stand before us today as living witnesses to our disunity and impotence, to the deficiency of our national spirit of sacrifice and our will for the future. We no longer need to discuss whether the demand of the German employee for social compensation is justified, just as we do not need to discuss whether or not the disenfranchised fourth estate2 should live or must live.
National or international in path and goal, that is the question. We both are fighting honestly and resolutely for freedom and only for freedom; as our ultimate accomplishment we both desire peace and community – you that of the world, I that of the Volk. That this accomplishment cannot be attained within this system is entirely clear and evident to both of us. To talk of quiescence today is to make the graveyard one’s home; to be peaceful in this state is pacifism and cowardice. You and I, we both know that a state, a system that is inwardly thoroughly mendacious, is meant to be overthrown; that for the new state one therefore has to fight and make sacrifices. In this respect yesterday we both could have been saying the exact same things about the bourgeois cowards of black-red-gold Social-Democracy. Thus far we have been in agreement.
I do not need to emphasize for you that, for myself, Volk and nation mean something different than they do for the talkative gentleman with the belly and the golden watch chain stretched around it, who unctuously and slickly recapitulates the diluted phrases of Stresemann and Hergt3 like a phonograph. The Volk: that is we, you, and I, the thousands who yesterday sat reverently before us, the millions with us who are of the same spirit and the same blood. The nation: that is the organic union of these millions into a community of need, bread, and fate.4 A longing for the nation lives within the Volk. To form the nation into a community of need, bread, and fate is our first goal. The second goal necessarily follows from this first one, as if of its own accord: the freedom of the nation. For this freedom the Volk will have to fight, and they will inevitably fight when they become a nation. That is our way. It is nothing new, nothing shocking for those in the know; an ancient, historical, causal chain. The history of peoples [Völker] is nothing more than a single consequence of the creative will to shape the nation, and of the energetic movement of nations towards freedom. Never has a Volk been redeemed by another Volk, be it out of kindness, love, or philanthropy. That always came only as a result of its own will to freedom, with help being found from neighboring peoples only when their will to power and existence shared the same general direction.
You praise Russia as the country of internationalist solidarity and admit to yourself that today Russia is more Russian than ever. That which you call the Bolshevist internationalism of Moscow is Pan-Slavism in its clearest and most pronounced form. I wouldn’t dream of joining in the chorus of bourgeois liars and ignoramuses. Russia and Russian Bolshevism are not on the verge of collapse. But the Russian council-system5 does not endure because it is Bolshevist, because it is Marxist, because it is international, but because it is national, because it is Russian. No Tsar ever seized the Russian Volk in their depths, in their passions, in their national instincts, as Lenin did. He gave the Russian peasant what the peasant had always envisioned Bolshevism to be: freedom and property. In doing so he made the most down-to-earth6 class, the peasant, into the true representative of the new system. The Russian peasant hates the Jew, particularly the Soviet Jew, as passionately as he supports land reform, as ardently as he loves his country, his land, his soil. “Down with the Jewish Soviets, long live Leninist agrarian reform!” This slogan best defines the attitude of the Russian peasant to the new system in Russia.
The German communist sees Bolshevism just as the capitalist Jew of the West could hope for: ideological, theoretical, with infernal hate against the enemies of his idea; impractical, with no sense for true reality, even as an idea without regard for the possibility of its practical completion. He is not a child of a race of poets and thinkers for nothing. He sees in Russia the nucleus of the Marxist world-state, while in reality it is only the nucleus of a new national organization of European states. To summarize: Lenin sacrificed Marx and in return gave Russia its freedom. You wish to sacrifice German freedom for Marx.
Even the Bolshevist Jew has clearly recognized the pressing need for the Russian national state, and has adjusted himself to it promptly and prudently. Whether for tactical reasons, whether with ulterior motives, who can say? Either is likely! At any rate, today he has to do as the Romans do. And that spoils the harmony with the capitalist Jews of the West. Hence the West’s brooding hatred for Soviet Russia. The stock exchange cannot and will not condone a national state, and the Bolshevist-international Jew is not enough assurance against a National-Bolshevist Russia.
Yesterday you beat about the bush in regards to the Jewish question. I know why. Please don’t deflect. You are an anti-Semite, as am I. You are not yet ready to admit this to yourself. In communism the Jew can still exist, if need be. In the National-Bolshevist state the Jew is an absurdity. He himself knows this best. But he is tactically shrewd as a result. With devious calculation he adjusts himself to those forces which are stronger than he is. He adjusts to the national instincts of a Volk, which he recognizes and takes into account sooner than we do, because he is not bound to them with his heart but at best just observes them as an interested spectator. The Jewish question, even that within Bolshevism, is more complex than one might think. It will probably not be the case that the capitalist and the Bolshevik Jew are one and the same. Possibly in the final analysis, but never in present practice. They do perhaps both want the same thing, in the end: “You shall consume every nation!”7 But they are too intelligent to put up resistance in the wrong place against forces which are stronger than their own merchant instincts. One such force is the national will to produce, which in Russia today is more alive than ever.
For the German burgher Bolshevism begins with the demand for personal sacrifice. Everything, everything to him is Bolshevism which in some way lays a hand upon his money-purse. For him the only thing which is politically right and true, meaning not Bolshevist, is the guarantee of his possessions and of his complacent, philistine peace. I see you smile: yes, on this we can grumble together. It is vulgar, base, disgusting, and, in the truest sense of the term, nationally irresponsible. You and I don’t give a damn about national phrases behind which there is no will for sacrifice. Bolshevism begins only with the serving of internationalist muck. It has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the size of the sacrifice demanded of property-owners. We can and must demand everything, everything, if the freedom of the nation calls for it.
What you said yesterday about international fraternization, my friend, is nonsense, and I’m sure you know that as well as I do. Do you really believe that the Russian Volk wish for proletarian solidarity? Has it never occurred to you that Russia stands on the side of the German proletariat because it sees in them the first and most important factor in the stabilization of its own national existence? There is not a single Ruble operating within German communism which does not bear the word “Russia” as its program.
Never has an oppressed class liberated itself through international protests, but always only through its national will for the future. The French bourgeoisie of the late 18th century did not wait for the solidarity of the German and English bourgeoisie. It threw off its chains alone, under its own power, at the moment in which it could no longer bear them. The forces of the old system attempted to break its spirit, but it put up a fight against them and victoriously carried its ideal, liberalism, throughout the entire world. Things are the same today. The German worker will become free only if he frees himself through his own efforts, and he will do so when he can no longer bear the fetters of slavery.
You rave about the International without having understood it in its deepest sense. The more corrupt a system, the more international are its bonds. Your and our most bitter enemy – democracy, money – is international. With this International it attempts to swindle those who fight for freedom, because it knows that it will then be eternally unstoppable.
The path to freedom leads through the nation. The more united is this nation, the stronger and more fervent is its will for freedom. It is the duty of National Socialism to set in motion this passionate will for freedom within the nation. Like you we want freedom, only by other means, means which lead to the goal. International solidarity is your programme; the solidarity of the nation, the Volksgemeinschaft, that is ours. I observed one thing with delight yesterday: You now believe me that our Volksgemeinschaft is not the pacifist mush meant by Herr Marx8 and Herr Stresemann. The Volksgemeinschaft today is nothing else than the struggle for the rights of the Volk, for the sake of the nation. We desire this struggle because it alone can bring freedom.
The future must be fought for. You and I, we fight each other without truly being enemies. In the process we fragment our forces and we never reach our goal. Perhaps absolute necessity will bring us together. Perhaps!
Do not shake your head! This question is a matter of Germany’s future and, even more so, of the future of Europe. The new state or the decline of the Occident, both lie within our hands.
We young men, you and I, we are the bearers of the fate of generations.
Let us never forget that!
I greet you!
1. A Latin phrase for a rhetorical technique in which one essentially fishes for goodwill with an audience by lavishing them with praise and flattery.
2. The “fourth estate” in National Socialist ideology were the proletariat. The other three estates (the term derives from the old medieval ‘estates of the realm’) were the nobility, bourgeoisie, and peasantry (sometimes the clergy was substituted for one of the other three). The German word for estate, Stand, was often used by NS activists as a kind of nationalist alternative to the word Klasse.
3. Stresemann and Hergt – i.e. Gustav Stresemann (b.1878 – d.1929) and Oskar Hergt (b.1869 – d.1967). Stresemann was a founding member of the center-right German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei) and was German Foreign Minister at the time Goebbels wrote this article. Hergt was a co-founder of the monarchist-traditionalist German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei) and represented the more moderate end of the bourgeois-nationalist political spectrum within the German Reichstag. Both men are cited by Goebbels here as typical examples of bourgeois, democratic politics within the Weimar Republic.
4. The terms here in order: Community of need – Notgemeinschaft; community of bread – Brotgemeinschaft; community of fate – Schicksalsgemeinschaft. These were slogans employed fairly commonly by the National Socialist movement, although they also saw some use within the propaganda of other political organizations, such as the Communist Party. A ‘community of need’ implies a people brought together by their common experience of suffering (the 1918 defeat and revolution, Germany’s dismemberment following WWI, inflation, Depression, etc. etc.). A ‘community of bread’ is a socialistic concept, the ideal of people being bound together by their collective ownership of resources and by their intrinsic need to provide care and support for one another. A ‘community of fate’ implies a community of people whose ties are based on their shared, common destiny. For another article which makes use of these terms, see the piece ‘National Socialism’ by Gregor Strasser.
5. “Russian council-system” – i.e. the system of workers’ and peasants’ soviets in Russia.
6. “Down-to-earth” – The actual word used here in German is bodenständigsten, which better translates as something like “most rooted-to-the-soil” or “most indigenous.” In other words, when used in the context in which Goebbels employs it here, it has völkisch connotations, implying that a people (in this case the Russian peasant class) are, through their blood and culture, the most naturally in tune with the soil of their own homeland. Because “down-to-earth” flowed better with the English translation it was chosen as an alternative, but it is obviously an imperfect compromise.
7. “You shall consume every nation!” – A quote from Deuteronomy, 7:16. The quote in question is taken from Moses’s speech to the Israelites on the plains of Moab, in which he instructs the Jewish people in the statutes and promises made to him by God. Old Testament quotes such as this were often employed by National Socialist and völkisch activists as evidence for the allegedly insidious nature of the Jews. For example, in the book Der nationale Sozialismus by NS-ideologist Rudolf Jung this particular quotation from Deuteronomy is referenced several times. A typical example from Jung’s book is as follows: “The Jewish spirit constitutes Jewry’s most effective weapon in its struggle for world domination. By imbuing its host society with this spirit it thereby recruits from amongst its host’s ranks the troops which it needs to help it achieve its far-reaching plans, plans which culminate in the words: “You shall consume every nation.”
8. Goebbels here means Wilhelm Marx (b.1863 – d.1946). Wilhelm Marx was a prominent Center Party politician and served as German Chancellor on several occasions. Goebbels here is mentioning that other ideological movements, not just the National Socialists, talked idealistically about establishing a classless Volksgemeinschaft or ‘People’s State’. The idea was not exclusive to the National Socialists, although their interpretation of the concept became the most popular and is now virtually synonymous with National Socialist ideology. The term is generally believed to have originated with the Social-Democrats.
“Not long after Goebbels had spoken before a joint meeting of Communists and National Socialists in late 1925”. Do you know more about this?
Not about the particular details of that specific meeting, unfortunately – I just know this article was written in response to one, but don’t know anything more about it. Joint meetings or debates actually weren’t that rare. If you read accounts of the period it was fairly common for political enemies to attend one another’s public events and for speakers to invite opponents on stage to give an account of themselves. One of Goebbels’s first political speeches (before he officially joined the NSDAP) was made in front of a communist gathering. From Heiber’s Goebbels biography:
And there’s also the famous photo of Goebbels and Ulbricht together at a meeting, although that was taken much later, in 1931. There’s also this great account by a Communist of a non-Goebbels-related joint meeting in July 1932, one of many from Conan Fischer’s excellent The German Communists and the Rise of Nazism:
Fascinating, I never thought I would say this, but I am amazed by how much of an impression that Joseph Goebbels had made on the future leader of East Germany. It almost makes me wonder if Walter Ulbricht’s treatment toward the National Socialists on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain in the early phases of the Cold War was influenced by speeches such as the one which you had cited in your reply.
As for the text of this speech which Goebbels was delivering, I did find it peculiar how he was describing the Soviet Union as “National Bolshevik.” The Soviets in 1925, as far as I could tell, were still in the middle of their internationalist phase and the NEP (New Economic Policy) had yet to be replaced by the First Five-Year Plan. That is obviously going to change in the years after this particular Goebbels speech. The passing of Vladimir Lenin and the failures of inspiring Marxist-Leninist revolutions across Europe was already beginning to spark the split between Stalin and Trotsky over “Socialism in One Country” and “Permanent Revolution” respectively.
Goebbels, for all of his faults, was describing this particular split from the purview of National Socialism. It is an accurate portrayal, one that can be understood even in this Coronavirus Pandemic, although some historical context may be needed.
Just in case anyone is not familiar with Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist terminology, “Socialism in One Country” argues that Socialism (and by extension, Communism) can be achieved through the nation-state without any intervention from beyond the borders of the nation-state. “Permanent Revolution” is the Trotskyist belief that this cannot be done through the nation-state but on a planetary scale and that every country on Earth must be brought under the control of a single “world-state” (to quote Goebbels) that is to be deemed as the sole sovereign authority on what is proper Socialism and (in the Trotskyist worldview) proper Communism. Yes, the question of Marxist Orthodoxy remains an important matter as our contemporary understandings of Revisionism did not come until much later. Even so, the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky can be articulated as being one defined by the issue of National Sovereignty in a world under Socialism.
In the end, Trotsky and his followers were driven out of the Soviet Union, allowing Stalin and his adherents to bring the Soviet Union on the “National Bolshevik” direction, even if it is not a conscious or self-aware decision on the Soviets’ part. I say this because, even in 1925, it was still too difficult to discern precisely where the Soviets (or the Germans for that matter) were heading in the next twenty-five years.
I don’t know if I’d say that Goebbels influenced Ulbricht – all I know is that they spoke at at least one meeting together. I agree with you on the rest though. Goebbels actually uses the German term for ‘National Bolshevist’ (national-bolschewistisch) twice in the text, which surprised me when I was reading it – you don’t see that term a lot in NS writing, and when you do it tends to be used mostly pejoratively or dismissively. It’s a great point, too, that the theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’ heavily influenced Goebbels’s perspective of the Soviet Union, as the context of that plays a big part in motivating a lot of the sentiment behind this speech. It was still early days in late 1925, but a lot of the more radical and pro-Russia NSDAP members were very excited by the possibilities which ‘Socialism in One Country’ opened up. I quoted Conan Fischer’s book The German Communists and the Rise of Nazism in another comment – he also talks about this topic at one point. Recommend reading it if you haven’t already.
Actually, in replying to you I didn’t even think about the fact that Ulbricht and Goebbels were both leaders of their respective parties in Berlin through the early ’30s – and that both played a significant role in backing the joint KPD/NSDAP Berlin transport strike in 1932. The idea that there might have been some level of reciprocal influence is an interesting one, especially as the Berlin-Brandenburg branch of the NSDAP was considered one of the ‘reddest’ in the country.
That was precisely what I was thinking, Bogumil. Walter Ulbricht, who later became the leader of East Germany, had to have realized early on that the National Socialists in Berlin-Brandenburg were more Communist than National Socialist. Berlin was arguably the only place I could think of in those days where the NSDAP would have to work with the KPD in certain areas of agreement. The 1932 transport strike is one example, even though I did not know about it until you brought it to my attention.
It makes sense for me to arrive at this conclusion, knowing that Ulbricht would later on try to reintegrate the National Socialists into East Germany under the context of Denazification in 1948. Since the National Socialists who found themselves east of the Iron Curtain were more likely to be receptive to Communist ideas, their reintegration had to be done by somebody that they could trust under those conditions. That somebody has to be someone who is not only familiar with aspects of National Socialism and the NSDAP, but also the concept of “Socialist Patriotism,” which is basically form of Soviet-style Nationalism that is not to be mistaken for the Chauvinism which Lenin rightfully condemned within “‘Left-Wing Communism,’ An Infantile Disorder.” Thus, having Ulbricht in charge of East Germany in its early years seemed like the most logical choice that Stalin could make.
Speaking of which, there is already an ARPLAN Blog Post that does in fact supports this post-1945 conclusion of mine.
East Germany Welcomes the ‘Little Nazis’: (https://arplan.org/2019/11/08/ulbricht-denazification/).