Advice from the Comintern to the Communist Party of Germany on winning back the masses radicalized by the ‘national-fascism’ of the NSDAP
The article below is essentially a companion piece to the Communist Party of Germany’s (KPD) August 1930 Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People. The ‘Programmatic Statement’ represented an attempt by the KPD to seriously grapple with the rising popularity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), born from recognition of the fact that nationalist sentiment (particularly aggrievement over the Young Plan and Versailles Peace Treaty) appeared to be a genuine motivational factor even among much of the proletariat, and that the social-revolutionary posturing of the NSDAP was being taken seriously by the masses even if to Marxists it appeared patently unconvincing. The new programme, and the general political line which it ushered in, was thus intended to “take the wind out of the nationalist propaganda of the Nazis” by beating the “fascists” at their own game, adopting certain tropes and terminology from the nationalist camp and repurposing them to demonstrate how it was in fact only German Communism which could truly bring both national and social liberation to the German people. The translated piece below – a draft letter to the KPD produced by the Political Secretariat of the Communist International in July 1930 – shows some of the genesis behind the 1930 programme, written as it was a month before the new programme was first launched within the pages of KPD daily Die Rote Fahne. The draft letter consists of analysis and advice from the Comintern to the KPD, outlining the reasons behind the growing success of “national-fascism” and recommending that a new programme be produced to better equip the Communists to compete against the NSDAP in the upcoming Reichstag elections. The exact authorship of both documents is somewhat unclear. Typically the 1930 programme is ascribed either to the KPD’s principal theorist, Heinz Neumann, or to Party-leader Ernst Thälmann. Historian Martin Mevius, however, asserts that it was actually the work of Comintern functionaries Dmitry Manuilsky, Wilhelm Knorin, and Otto Kuusinen (all working under Stalin’s direction), and that it “had to be sold to the German party leadership,” who initially were not very enthusiastic. The existence of the ‘precursor’ document I have translated here probably gives credence to Mevius’s claim that the programme originated in the Comintern. Whatever its provenance, the ‘National and Social’ programme grew to be a central component of the KPD’s political work over the the following years, and its “foresight” and “historic significance” were still being acclaimed decades later by Communists in East Germany.
Draft Letter to the KPD Leadership
On the National Liberation of the Working People against “National Fascism”:
A Perspective on the Reichstag Elections
Drafted by the Political Secretariat of the Communist International
28 July, 1930
On the Question of the Struggle against National-Fascism in Germany.1
To the Central Committee of the KPD.
Within Germany, the grave political and organizational successes which fascism (the National Socialists) has made over the course of the last year present us with the problem of how to fight against this new weapon of the bourgeoisie in all its magnitude. The example of Saxony2 and of other areas demonstrates that fascism has been successful at winning over the broad masses, proletarians among them, who could and should have been captured by our work so far, and that our Party has not yet discovered all the methods required for the fight against national-fascism.
Fascism’s rapid rise is the result of the economic crisis in Germany, a crisis deeply intensified when coupled with the Young Plan, which plunges small commodity-producers and entrepreneurs into ruin, makes millions of proletarians unemployed, depresses the living standards of those workers still in the factories (wage cuts), and imposes new taxes, new tariffs, and other evils upon the broadest masses of the working people (including white-collar employees, small businessmen, artisans, small farmers, etc.).
The broadest masses of the petite-bourgeoisie and the backwards strata among the proletariat, who no longer wish to go on living in the old manner, are leaving the ranks of the old bourgeois parties – particularly the German National People’s Party,3 and in some cases also, the Social-Democrats – and are streaming into the fascist camp, because fascism promises a radical, “revolutionary” way out of the present situation. That the national-fascists are able to lure the masses through radical slogans is evidence of the profound unrest occurring within these masses, is evidence for their radicalization.
What is it which draws these masses to national-fascism?
Above all, it is fascism’s nationalist demagoguery.
The fascists acquired their political capital by means of their being the first to take up and pursue the campaign against the Young Plan, presenting it as a plan to enslave Germany. Fostering nationalist instincts through continuous reference to the fact that Alsace-Lorraine, the Saar region, Upper Silesia, and the Corridor4 have been occupied, that Germany has been plundered, and that the German Volk have been unable to come to terms with it all; exposing the governing parties and Social-Democracy as the parties of Germany’s enslavement; issuing appeals to fight for the eradication of the Young Plan, which is presented as the cause behind the hardships and suffering afflicting the German Volk; skillfully concealing the fact that the true cause is actually the capitalist system, the rule of the bourgeoisie – these are the main weapons of agitation used by the national-fascists.
Secondly – it is fascism’s social demagoguery against speculation, parasitism, etc.
Which tactics must our Party employ in the struggle against the fascists?
The principal task is to tear the guise of being ‘fighters for the national independence and social liberation of the German working people’ from the face of the fascists, to prove to the masses that the “true workers” policy5 of the fascists – when freed from its shell of demagogic promises – is a policy which actually assists with the enforcement of the Young Plan, that the Young Plan is in fact a means of servitude precisely because the German bourgeoisie, including the fascist leaders, has adopted it as a tool for perpetuating their class rule; to prove to them also that the Young Plan subjugates the working people of Germany because the bourgeoisie passes all of its burdens on to the working people; and to prove as well that the industrial magnates who finance the fascists – Siemens, Opel, etc. – are selling off German industry to American capital, and that this is a continuation of the policy of subordinating Germany to the interests of imperialist cliques.
The principal task is to prove to the masses that the Young Plan cannot be abolished without first overthrowing the power of the bourgeoisie, without first establishing a Soviet power which can shatter the Young Plan and the Versailles Peace Treaty into pieces; that no power apart from Soviet power can even bring itself to shatter this Plan, because only a German council-state6 in alliance with the Soviet Union and supported by the revolutionary proletariat of France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other nations is capable of standing up against the imperialist Entente. Aided by the statements from Strasser and his supporters,7 as well as by the fascists’ own coalition policy, the fascists are to be exposed as the real executors of the Young Plan. Backed by concrete facts, one must expose in every way possible the coalition-practice of the fascists: it is their weak point, because it is this which best tears the guise of being “revolutionaries” and “socialists” from their faces, which demonstrates their true nature as the executors of the Young Plan, exactly like all the other bourgeois parties.
In contrast to the gratuitous notions of revenge coming from the national-fascists, we have to explain to the masses why capitalist Germany is incapable of putting up any resistance to the predacious demands of French imperialism. The slogan of economic and political alliance with the USSR is to be unfurled before the masses, to show to them that a German council-state can provide work to millions of unemployed, that it can be the industrial center of the Soviet Union (based on approximate figures, it must be demonstrated which industrial products Soviet Germany could supply to Soviet Russia in return for agricultural commodities, semi-finished products, etc.). In view of the fact that the fascists have demonstrated an understanding of how to deploy a large-scale campaign among the unemployed, the popularization of this programme with the working masses must be especially vigorous.
The Party must confront the demagogy of the fascists with a full programme of proletarian revolution. One of the most crucial deficiencies in the struggle against fascism lies in the fact that the Party has not yet given the masses a fully-developed programme for the way out of the crisis, for preventing the looming catastrophe, so that national-fascist demagoguery ends up seeming to the backwards masses like a radical method for eliminating all the worst aspects of the present regime.
In contrast to fascist agitation against large commercial- and banking-capital, in contrast to their social demagoguery over taxes and cuts to social-security, in contrast to their theatrical anti-Semitic agitation against parasites, our Party could address itself to the masses with a clearly set-out programme which says in direct and certain language what the Communists will do upon assuming power. The Party must employ forceful revolutionary language which will instill an assurance of victory in the masses.
This programme must also be carried into the ranks of the young workers, who are the mainstay of national-fascism within the working-class. One also cannot underestimate the need to involve women in this struggle, whom fascism wants to confine once more to children and the kitchen.
It seems to us that the split within the National Socialist Party is not without considerable significance. It reflects the difficulties involved in the creation of a fascist mass party in Germany, as well as the impossibility of permanently maintaining the proletarian elements drawn into it with the help of naked demagogy. This split signifies a certain division of labor between the Hitler-group and the Strasser-group, in which the latter lures the proletarian elements into fascism while the former carries out the coalition policy. The extent to which they can succeed at fulfilling these functions will, to a large degree, depend upon us. We must not lose sight of this.
What motivates our recommendations is the idea that our Party must participate in the forthcoming election with a clear proletarian programme for the salvation of the working people of Germany. This programme is to be written upon a foundation of concrete slogans, and of concrete exposure of the practical activities of the fascists; it must stand in close association with the ongoing development of the economic struggle.
We consider it necessary to place the issue of fascism before you, because in the upcoming election campaign it will be one of your greatest and most dangerous enemies. We have refrained from enumerating every potential method of struggle against fascism, and wish only to draw attention – with the greatest emphasis possible – to what in our conception is the most important point from which one has to commence the struggle against fascism today. It is essential that the Party, on the basis of the attached document, direct an appeal to the masses which exposes the fascists for their deception and demagoguery, which sets out a revolutionary programme for preventing the impending catastrophe, and which shows to the masses the path of struggle which will lead to the liberation of the working people of Germany, and to a Soviet Germany.
1. “National-fascism” was a term commonly employed in Communist theoretical writing during the so-called “Third Period”. Comintern theorists divided the post-WWI political environment into “periods”: the First Period involved instability, working-class uprising, and capitalist suppression (1918-1923); the Second Period was one of capitalist consolidation (1924-1927); and the Third Period (1928 onwards) was expected to be characterized by economic upheaval and a resurgence in the strength and size of the international workers’ movement. Marxist-Leninists predicted that the pre-revolutionary conditions of the Third Period would induce desperation in the bourgeoisie, who as a result would increasingly turn to fascist politics in order to try and protect their threatened monopolies of power and wealth. Anyone on the side of the bourgeoisie in any way during the Third Period was by extension, therefore, essentially a willing ally of fascism. Reformist Social-Democracy, which rejected the Comintern and supposedly had very loose ideological affinities with fascism (“class collaboration” was explicitly cited at the Comintern’s 6th World Congress in 1928 as an ideological “point of contact” between Social-Democracy and fascism), was thus recast in Communist propaganda as a variety of fascism: social-fascism. Nationalist, völkisch, and bourgeois anti-communist forces, particularly the NSDAP, constituted the other major wing of fascist reaction: national-fascism. National-fascism and social-fascism were presented as two sides of the same fascist coin, a related and equally hostile threat to Communism and to the victory of the global proletariat.
2. Shortly before this draft letter was written, state Landtag elections had recently been held in Saxony, on June 22, 1930. These elections saw the NSDAP win 14 seats (previously it had held 5 seats in the Saxon Landtag), putting it ahead of the KPD by one mandate and making it the state’s second most powerful party behind the Social-Democrats. This was an especially hard blow to the Communists, as Saxony had long been regarded as one of the “reddest” states within Germany.
3. “German National People’s Party” – In the original German, the authors wrote only “Nationalen Partei”, i.e. National Party. This is shorthand for the German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP), so I have used the party’s full name in the translation to avoid confusion.
4. “The Corridor” – i.e. the “Polish Corridor” or “Danzig Corridor,” the territory which separated East Prussia from the German heartland during the interwar era. The area of land comprising the corridor was assigned to the new Polish Republic following WWI via provisions within the Treaty of Versailles.
5. “True workers policy” – A reference to the NSDAP’s tendency to present itself as the true workers’ party, as opposed to the KPD and the SPD, which it asserted did not genuinely represent the real interests of German labor as a whole. Much of the basis for this claim stemmed from how labor was interpreted within National Socialist ideology. National Socialists included not just the proletariat under the term “workers,” but anyone who did “productive” work which benefited the Volk and the community as a broader collective. The NSDAP argued that since the SPD and KPD put such disproportionate emphasis upon industrial labor, they thus deliberately overlooked the actual interests of the majority of German workers, many of whom worked in other fields. Goebbels sums up this perspective succinctly in his pamphlet ‘Those Damned Nazis’: “We call ourselves a workers’ party because we want to rescue the word ‘work’ from its current definition, and give it back its original meaning. Anyone who creates value is a creator, that is, a worker. We refuse to distinguish kinds of work. Our only standard is whether the work serves the whole, or at least does not harm it, or if it is harmful. Work is service. If it works against the general welfare, then it is treason against the Fatherland… A furrowed brow is as much a sign of labor as a powerful fist. A white collar worker should not be ashamed to claim with pride that of which the manual laborer boasts: labor. The relations between these two groups determine their mutual fate. Neither can survive without the other, for both are members of an organism that they must together maintain if they are to defend and expand their right to exist.”
6. “German council-state” – The German word used here is “Rätedeutschland”, which translates literally to “Council Germany.” “Council Germany” is a little inelegant in English, however, so I opted here for the translation “German council-state,” which I believe gives a clearer conception of the original intended meaning. The term Rätedeutschland appears three more times further on in the original text; in one instance I have again reused “German council-state” as a translation, and in another two I have opted instead for “Soviet Germany” (although there is admittedly a separate German word for this, Sowjetdeutschland). The meanings are essentially analogous in any case, since a ‘soviet’ is just another word for a revolutionary workers/soldiers council. The authors’ of the term Rätedeutschland is deliberately evocative of the 1918 revolutionary period in Germany, when Communists and USPD-members were establishing workers’ and soldiers’ councils (i.e. soviets) throughout the country to serve as a new, revolutionary form of democratic governance – the so-called Rätestaat, or council-state.
7. A reference to the infamous article ‘The Socialists Leave the NSDAP!’, published by Otto Strasser in Berlin daily Der Nationale Sozialist on July 4, 1930, a day after he and a small group of his supporters split from the NSDAP to establish the ‘Fighting Community of Revolutionary National Socialists’ (Kampfgemeinschaft Revolutionärer Nationalsozialisten). The KPD from 1930-33 would prove quite adept at utilizing complaints from disaffected social-revolutionary National Socialists, like those associated with Otto Strasser’s clique, incorporating their arguments and attitudes into Marxist-oriented propaganda aimed at winning over National Socialist workers and SA-men to German Communism.