Socialism and nationalism intertwined: observations on the national-bolshevist character of revolutionary German youth, by writer Fritz Weth
The short essay below was translated from a 1922 book called Die Neue Front, a collection of articles which had all originally been published in the intellectual periodical Das Gewissen (‘Conscience’). The Gewissen served as the official theoretical journal for the Juni-Klub, a conservative-revolutionary-oriented literary group founded in 1919 by publisher Heinrich von Gleichen-Rußwurm, writer Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, and nationalist politician Eduard Stadtler. The Juni-Klub represented a slightly more moderate segment of the conservative- and national-revolutionary movements active in interwar Germany. Its proponents (the ‘Jungkonservativen‘) were less hostile to the overall concept of conservatism, were more overtly intellectual, and tended to be more amenable to the representatives of German heavy industry and big business, even as they pondered over the potential merits of a non-Marxist alternative to capitalism. The club was intellectually open and avowedly non-partisan, and as a result it attracted an eclectic variety of members and interested hangers-on from across the country’s political spectrum: Heinrich Brüning, Franz Oppenheimer, Ernst Troeltsch, Franz von Papen, Friedrich Naumann, Hans Blüher, Hans Grimm, August Winnig, Hjalmar Schacht, Wichard von Moellendorf, and a young Otto Strasser, among many others. One of these members was the lone “worker” of the group: Fritz Weth, a former communist. Very little is actually known about Weth, beyond that he lived in Berlin, gave his profession as “illustrator,” and had at one point apparently been active in the KPD or USPD. Between 1920 and 1923 Weth wrote around 40 articles for the Gewissen, most of which dealt with the labor movement or with questions of socialism, all with an underlying advocacy of a national-bolshevist political line (alliance with Soviet Russia; conservative cooperation with socialists and trade-unionists; creation of a nationalist, socialist New Germany) which must have been rather thrilling to the journal’s more middle-class, conservative readers. The article below is a prime example of this, employing Weth’s observations of the changes brought about by the German Revolution in his attempt to stress to his readers that there was an implicitly shared, revolutionary worldview held between those on the Left and those on the Right.
We are living in the midst of spiritual and economic decomposition. Traditional notions have fallen into decline or into transition. The guardians and the advocates of tradition, the elders among us, can establish no rapport with the era in which they are living through. They do not even understand the young in their own ranks, because these youth are resolutely prepared to sacrifice surviving traditions and to assimilate the valuable content of other traditions of German renewal. That is the process of dissolution occurring on the Right.
The Right’s experiential world nonetheless provides its younger generation with a deeper insight into the limits of revolutionary development than that possessed by the future-obsessed youth on the Left. The Left, too, has its own reinforced conservatism, exactly like that on the Right. One of its largest parties has committed itself to formal democracy, and is thus inevitably hindering the creation of that synthesis which matters most in Germany today and which only the revolutionaries of the Right and Left can produce together. The revolutionary Left has taken up the fight against the spirit of “leaving things be,” against the spirit of the SPD.1 Yet their own doctrinal rigidity makes it difficult for them to be victorious in this struggle. Nevertheless, concentrated within their ranks is everything in the proletariat which is young, strong, and inspired to build, and which reaches out beyond the dogmatism of their leaders towards the community of the nation. This elementary will found its first expression within the fellowship of those multiple foreign- and domestic-policy goals which the revolutionaries of the Right share with those of the Left. Each found the other in the front against Western economic imperialism, formalism, and degeneracy, and there they inconspicuously clasped hands.
Unfortunately the parties, with their dogmas, wedge themselves between everything seeking to establish bonds between the German youth and thus among the German Volk. The saddest chapter of the German labor movement therefore also concerns the socialist parties, each of which places the schema of its organization above the experience of its followers. This does not mean that these parties are without a sense of responsibility, but that each of the parties instead formulates their conception of the people’s happiness within their own theoretical centers, via their professional leaders, and knows how to supply these concepts with the appearance of popularity through their party bureaucracies. Via these dogmas the parties then ossify into power-seeking cliques which reject every elementary impulse of the entire Volk as being contrary to their programmes.
The political ambition of the professional leaderships is one of the reasons why socialism has become a bone of contention among partisan leaders rather than a cause of the people. The truly ambitious crack troops of the proletariat, thirsting for knowledge and tirelessly preparing themselves for their future authority, have not yet been able to exercise any influence over their own parties. As a result these parties are being led about by an ever-growing army of civil-servant-socialists who would like to subordinate the spiritual content of the proletarian movement to their own organizational character. These elements have become a lead weight for the earnestly struggling proletariat. Only since the revolutionary socialist youth set a gulf between themselves and these civil servants has the formation of an internally-motivated proletarian crack force been successful. The first serious resistance against schematizing party-socialism and against petty-bourgeois Social-Democracy, out of which the 1918 Revolution grew, originated with these youthful crack troops.
The expectation of property, and of an unprecedented inversion of all circumstances in their favor, was the only aspect of Marxism which the masses of the proletariat understood before the youth within the socialist movement finally identified their spiritual tasks. Since the materialistically-inclined class-allies of these youth now practice, through their wage envy, the acquisition of property, money, and goods in the form of supplementary income and by means of other black-market practices, the socialist movement is consequently breaking down into fighters and profiteers. Only after this moral divorce takes place within the working-class can Old Prussian traditions, such as the concept of the individual’s devotion to the totality, become the bridge upon which the fighters of both Left and Right find one another. Then the idea of a class-dictatorship, including that of the proletariat, will remain a powerless, shadowy specter, behind which rally only the liquidators of the collapsing Germany, those who lack any will to rebuild. The youth of the socialist movement have seen from the example of Russia that the existence and value of the revolutionary-Right-wing intelligentsia cannot be denied. Hence why they wish for understanding, in order to create values without destroying values. The youth from the Left seek, together with the youth from the Right, to restore that authority which ensures that the Volk advance via personal example rather than through official positions. They are an obstacle to the rule of “armed classes,” which must inevitably become instruments of exploitation for those hatefully-persecuted sections of the population, for even armies which have been inoculated with the party-socialist barracks-square spirit are no real guarantee of construction.
If the dangers of the German Volk’s political and economic self-elimination are to be countered, then a will-to-community is the necessary prerequisite which only a young, moral, and at the same time enthusiastically militant youth can provide. Who can seamlessly lead the working people? The class- and party-bureaucrats have claimed their positions. If one could successfully and ruthlessly force them aside, then this would mean reducing the causes of friction among the Volk.
The economy itself should provide us with our leaders and with an example of community. It can fulfill this task as soon as it has triumphed against those economic entities and economic groups which place their special interests above the interests of the Volk. The professions, accordingly, have to rid themselves first and foremost of all immoral economic activity. Whereupon they can step forwards to assume their place of importance for the totality, while at the same time claiming the recognition associated with it. Under this newly-created nobility of a new economic doctrine the feudalist elements of the pre-revolutionary era will surely and definitively wither away. What will then prevail, what will then assert itself, will be – performance!
The age of performance is approaching. In this era, labor seeks to rule over itself. It does not wish to be subordinate to individual groups of people, nor even to the workers alone. Hence why the form of rule which it is evolving is that of the council-concept,2 directed against every dogmatism. This concept will still need to overcome many of the theoretical embellishments left clinging to it from Marxism. But within the idea of the councils lies the possibility of ensuring that it is the capable who will rise, that they will receive recognition for their achievements from those whose interpretation of a profession’s effectiveness is determined by its significance for the community as a whole.
That is the substance behind the revolution of the proletariat – that it wishes to see its young, capable, and mature class-comrades at work wherever there is leadership. In this endeavor the youth of the Left unite once more with the youth of the Right; both want to see at the forefront of things not profiteers, but instead those personalities called forth through the situations of our lives. That underlying revolutionary renewal which is imbued upon the proletariat by the youth of the Left originates among those people who have a creative drive for leadership and who are presently suppressed by the institutions of formal-democratic administration, or who are part of all those willing masses who need to pursue ambitious goals in order to be able to breathe. Organizationally they are still in the clutches of the parties, but they strive to move beyond the party-confines and their attention is focused firmly on the Volk, for whom they are the vanguard. For them the council-concept is the form through which they wish to work, it being not merely an organ of control but primarily one of activity. In their will to serve the community, revolutionaries from the Right and the Left come remarkably close to each other. That which lies betwixt them does not move ahead of the Volk, sowing, but rather rushes after them, reaping.3
It is Germany’s youth who affirm the German Revolution. Yet the nationalist and radical militants among them are still influenced by the party-spirit. They have not yet completely freed themselves from dogmas. But they also cannot bear those wounds upon the body of the Volk which multiply daily through the hatred of the parties. It is still possible for the red and black-white-red banners to be driven against one another. But their bearers will recognize the earnestness of their mutual desires as soon as they are standing together, as soon as reality has dismantled all utopias and has prepared the grave for those old heralds of utopian revolutionary ideals and for those heralds of romantic concepts of restoration. Then the defensive position of Germany’s economy, like that of its state, will necessitate the replenishment of forces here and there. Already the most energetic sections of the German working class are adopting a foreign-policy stance in line with Germany’s given option: a front against the West in alliance with the East. This development has occurred as a result of conscious observance of the petty-bourgeois and agrarian progression of Russia; that is, not only for party-political reasons, but also as a result of a global political and economic attitude. Marxist explanations for this attitude cannot erase the natural bases behind this socialist transformation. A race’s possibilities in life are firmly tied to the spiritual and economic foundations of its country. These natural foundations are what compel the foreign policy decisions of nations. Domestically, however, it is the economic foundations which, under the spell of reality, seek methods for expressing those ideas which dominated the German nation in revolutionary times, and which will establish the shape of German socialism.
2. “The council-concept” – During the November Revolution of 1918, soldiers and workers began hastily convening directly-elected councils as a grass-roots method of establishing revolutionary, democratic control over Germany. The council-concept had a number of inspirations – primarily the emerging Soviet system in Russia, but also the Paris Commune and certain syndicalist elements in Germany’s own socialist heritage – and the workers’ and soldiers’ councils were seen by their proponents as the foundational structure for a new executive and legislative apparatus: the council-state (Rätestaat). Despite the left-wing orientation of the councils (only workers, soldiers, and intellectual sympathizers were deemed appropriate for representation and involvement), and despite the more moderate Social-Democrats in the government effectively putting down the councils in favor of a more ‘bourgeois’, parliamentary system, the council-concept began early on to draw attention and sympathy from those on the Right. Paul Eltzbacher, a German-Jewish legal academic and member of the bourgeois-nationalist German National People’s Party (DNVP), produced a pamphlet in 1919 advocating for economic socialization and a Soviet political system, both established on a ‘national’ basis; he subsequently became the first person to ever be deemed a “National Bolshevist,” in an article by the Deutsche Tageszeitung. Dr. Paul Tafel, a very early member of the German Workers’ Party in Munich, also produced a booklet in 1920 advocating for a nationalist council-state, entitled The New Germany: A Council-State on a National Foundation (Das neue Deutschland: Ein Rätestaat auf nationaler Grundlage); Rudolf Jung references Tafel’s work as an influence in his own writing on National Socialist ideology. The council-idea was especially popular among National-Bolsheviks and other more radical, ‘left’-leaning nationalists (Karl Otto Paetel, elements of the Strasser-group and NSDAP), but it still also held an attraction for others on the more conservative end of the nationalist spectrum, such as prominent DNVP member Martin Spahn, who once stated that: “The council-idea strives to bring spirit and active living back to our völkisch existence.” Nationalists were attracted to the council-state because they saw it as a form of corporatism, i.e. a political system which would bring Germans of all classes and professions together and which would, through its basis in occupational representation, eliminate the divisive nature of the party-system. Fritz Weth’s advocacy of the “council-concept” here places him firmly within this stream of the German nationalist intellectual tradition.
3. In other words, those moderate political elements between the ‘far-Left’ and the ‘far-Right’ – the center-Left, centre-Right, liberals, progressives, conservatives, democrats, etc. etc. – exploit the hard work of the German Volk (“reaping”), rather than actively working to prepare the ground for the German Volk’s success and prosperity (“sowing”).