“Nationalists! Break through to us!” Articles from ‘Aufbruch’, a National Bolshevist propaganda journal produced by the Communist Party of Germany
Between 23 September to 4 October 1930, three young officers of the German Reichswehr stood trial in a Leipzig court, charged with plotting to commit high treason. The three Lieutenants – Richard Scheringer, Hanns Ludin, and Hans Wendt – had for several months been spreading national-revolutionary propaganda among the officer corps of the 5th Artillery Regiment in Ulm, encouraging them “not to fire on a national uprising of the people” should it occur, but instead to actively side with the revolutionary nationalists, to “join the revolt and become the nucleus of a people’s army of the future.” The ‘Ulm Reichswehr Trial’ of these young officers became a notorious event in Weimar history (Hitler was famously called as a witness), but even more notorious was its aftermath. On 27 February 1931, almost five months into an 18 month sentence, Richard Scheringer publicly announced that he had forsaken radical-nationalism and decided to convert to Communism, and a statement to this effect was read out in the Reichstag on 18 March by a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The Communists saw Scheringer’s conversion as a major propaganda victory, and quickly hurried to incorporate his name and image into their “National and Social” propaganda line, a strategy directed at winning over disaffected nationalists for Marxism-Leninism through Communist appropriation of nationalist discourse and aesthetics. To that end, in July 1931 a new propaganda journal was launched: Aufbruch: Kampfblatt im Sinne des Leutnant a.D. Scheringer (“Awakening: A Combat-Journal in the Spirit of Lieutenant a.D. Scheringer”). Aufbruch directly targeted itself towards members of the NSDAP, SA, Stahlhelm, Wehrwolf, and other nationalist organizations, utilizing Scheringer’s name along with National Bolshevist language in an attempt to build common ground between nationalist and Marxist revolutionaries. Aufbruch articles might cover military developments in the Soviet Red Army, revolutionary strategy in China, the concept of the “Nation” in socialist theory, or the inadequate social-revolutionary credentials of nationalist leaders – all topics intended to attract a radical-nationalist audience and to make them sympathetic to the arguments of German Communism. The two articles below are translated from the first edition of Aufbruch, and give an idea of its flavor: the first (untitled) lead article is effectively a statement of the journal’s purpose, while the second (“The Break with Yesterday”) is an account by an anonymous supposed ex-NSDAP member explaining why he and others like him decided to break with the NSDAP in favor of the KPD.
Untitled Lead Article from
“A Combat-Journal in the Spirit of Lieutenant a.D.1 Scheringer”
From Aufbruch vol. 1, no. 1, July 1931
“If the cause of the Volk is made the cause of the Nation,
then the cause of the Nation becomes the cause of the Volk!”2
In this historic hour, we turn to you former officers and leaders in the nationalist associations:
The misery of our Volk is growing tremendously. More and more are the masses being forced into impoverishment by the capitalist system. Hundreds of thousands of peasants separated from their homes and farms; millions dulled through having to eke out a meager existence; millions of workers and employees without work and bread; hundreds and thousands of academics and intellectuals no longer with any opportunity to earn a living.
The capitalist ruling powers are trying to keep the machinery of state running through brutal cuts to wages and salaries; by reducing care for the sick and disabled; by cutting civil servant salaries and war victim benefits; by throttling unemployment benefits; by perpetually introducing new taxes and new methods of coercion. The tribute burdens are passed on completely to the working strata among the Volk. Freedom of expression is stifled through ruthless terror, and every protest by the masses is suppressed with fascist methods.
Meanwhile, international finance capital is preparing for a war of intervention against the Soviet Union, in order to reintegrate back into the capitalist system an economic territory which is flourishing as a result of socialism’s realization. In their own countries the exploiters have done everything possible to incite the German Volk against the East in service of the predatory capital of world finance. In this way they hope to escape their present difficulties once again, and to create an outlet for the growing anger of the masses. If this criminal plan is fulfilled, then all hope for the national and social liberation of the German Volk will be destroyed for a long time to come, because our freedom can only be secured in tandem with the first free workers’ and peasants’ state on Earth, the Soviet Union! The opposite route leads us to a new enslavement, to the perpetuation of capitalist servitude indefinitely.
The dramatically worsening situation demands resolute and ruthless action from all those whose intentions towards the Volk are sincere. Hitler and Goebbels, Strasser, Stennes, and Seldte3 are not among them. They are traitors to the social and national cause. They aid and abet Brüning and his Social-Democratic Bonzen.4 Instead of being leaders in a storm against the system, they exploit the best elements of the Volk in a counter-revolutionary sense. Large segments of the youth, soldiers, workers, and intellectuals who used to follow the banners of these demagogues have recognized this. The peasant, too, under the pressure of overweening impoverishment, is increasingly realizing that his place in the struggle for freedom must be at the side of the revolutionary working-class.
Now it is time to shake off all bourgeois prejudices. Now it is time to tread Lenin’s revolutionary path. Scheringer gave us the example. On March 18th he unreservedly placed himself beneath the storm-banners of the fighting proletariat!
Nationalists! Hundreds among your ranks already stand behind us today. Tomorrow there will be thousands. Courage, comrades!5 Break through to us! Do justice to this historic hour! Then freedom and victory shall be ours!
Forwards, for the socialist revolution!
In sympathy with our comrade Scheringer:
signed: v. Boettischer, Ltn. a.D., Danzig; Giesecke, Police Snr.Ltn. a.D., Berlin; Hacke, Reichswehr Snr.Ltn. a.D., Freiburg im Breisgau; Fülle, Captain a.D., Gera; Tartsch, Snr.Ltn. a.D., Berlin; Herder, Snr.Ltn. a.D., former Stahlhelm District Leader, Frankfurt am Main; Grubitz, Snr.Ltn. a.D., Wilmersdorf; Konrad, former NS Sturmführer; Korn, Ltn. a.D., former NS Führer School Leader, Berlin; Lenk, former Reich Troupe Leader of the NSDAP; Rehm, former acting Gauleiter of the Brandenburg NSDAP; Schmid-Wildbad, former NS Sturmführer und District Speaker; Graf Stenbock-Fermor, Berlin, former Baltic fighter.
The Break with Yesterday
By Lieutenant a.D. ………
As sons of the German middle-class we grew up in the lean years of 1914 to 1918, when our fathers and our brothers were fighting and falling on the front lines of the World War. The Kaiserreich collapsed. Then came Versailles, the tribute slavery of the Volk, and inflation, through which our families – and we along with them – became to a large extent proletarianized. The leadership of the state, the entire upper stratum of the rich and the propertied, were brought to their knees. Tribute burdens were imposed upon the masses of the Volk, and pieces of the homeland were sold off to international finance capital.
Meanwhile, we youth carried on the national resistance on our own. In the Rhineland, in the Ruhr region, in Upper Silesia. This was rebellion in the eyes of the ruling classes! The Bürger6 could not accept that. They stabbed us in the back, handed us over to the judiciary of the imperialist victor states, locked us up in prisons. But when it came to suppressing the rebellious proletariat, of whose hardship we knew little, then we were in the right. Then there was no slogan “nationalist”-sounding enough with which to embrace us, then we suddenly became “heroes.” And, fools that we were, we really allowed ourselves to be exploited in order to protect “public order”; we let ourselves be used as a police force for the exploiters, as defenders of the state of Versailles, and we believed that in doing so that we were defending freedom. Once we had fulfilled our task, our weapons were quickly taken away from us again – if necessary, under the compulsion of state power – and once more we became the boyish rebels over whom honest Bürger could merely shake their heads, for whom there was only a shrug of the shoulders and police terror.
The years changed us. Little by little, the rebels gradually became revolutionaries. To begin with, we lost faith in those authorities who said “national liberation” and meant “protection of property.” The patriotism of senile philistines became an abomination to us. Those “leaders” whose greatest fame was their maintenance of law and order were looked upon by us with bitter scorn. We learned to hate that system which could do nothing but collect tribute, protect profiteers and exploiters, and pass legislation to suppress the Volk. Our economic position, which had become completely different to that of our fathers as a consequence of monopoly capitalism’s plundering of the middle-class, taught us to understand the plight of the proletariat, the plight of that stratum of the Volk to which we now belonged, the plight of a class that has been living for decades in much worse conditions than we have been for years. The implicit connection between the national and social questions began to dawn on us, even if we had not yet recognized its ultimate consequences. In the factories, mines, and barracks, at the dole office or on country roads, we came to know and to respect the industrial and agricultural workers. We were ready to fight alongside them, shoulder to shoulder. And yet we did not find our way to the red flag, for in spite of everything we were still too attached to yesterday. We did not know revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, but we did know the stab-in-the-back legend [Dolchstoßlegende]. We distrusted the revolutionary proletariat when it came to national liberation, which for us has always been the highest principle. This distrust was nourished by the fact that broad masses of the workers, still politically uncertain themselves, simply ignored the national question, partly due to the damnable influence of Social-Democracy, partly on account of their terrible social situation.
Then came the hour of the great demagogue Hitler! He stepped forth with the revolutionary slogan: “National and social liberation.” Tearing up the peace diktats, breaking the bondage of interest-slavery, combating the Jewish mercantile spirit [Händlergeist], eliminating unearned and effort-free income, arming the broad masses, rising up against Versailles, providing opportunities for the free development of each individual’s strengths and talent, bread and work for the entire Volk – the National Socialist leaders beat the drum for all of this, in word and in writing, in a thousand meetings. That was our ideal! We believed that here was a revolutionary, youthful movement of the people, that this was where national and social liberation would be fought for. Enthusiastically we joined the NSDAP, carried the swastika banner forwards, went into hospitals or to prison, in the firm belief that we were serving a just cause. It was the final monstrous swindle to which we fell victim; it was the last time that we served yesterday.
After a few initial mock-battles against the system, the NSDAP showed its true, fascist face. The revolutionary movement became a National Liberal, “legal” political party. Its leaders, who had supposedly put themselves forward in order to liberate the Volk, went into the parliaments and engaged in capitalist politics. They voted against special taxes for millionaires and big capitalists; for millions in subsidies to Jewish companies, such as Mansfeld A.G.; for salary increases for government Bonzen; against the suspension of Young Plan payments; against Germany’s exit from the League of Nations, etc. In Thuringia and Brunswick they used their power to suppress the rebellious Volk, to collect poll taxes for the Young Republic,7 to give the deposed princes millions of Marks in severance payments. Their supreme Führer, Hitler himself, negotiated with heavy industry, acknowledged our international debts, swore oaths to the Weimar state, and repeatedly disavowed revolution and the struggle for liberation. In order make the Party coalition-ready, he abased himself in dog-like submission before the emergency decrees of “Black Brüning.”8 “Socialism” was thrown overboard, the “breaking of interest-slavery” dismissed as “nonsense,” and private property and the capitalist economic order were afforded unconditional recognition.
The salaries of the Bonzen were paid out of proletarian Groschen, and party palaces9 were established. Anyone who dared to oppose the “new course” was thrown out of the party as a Bolshevist. Packs of bourgeoisie poured in en masse, putting their own stamp upon the movement. In order to deceive the party’s revolutionary-minded following about this corruption and stagnation, the masses were enraptured further with hollow phrases which elevated the party to an end in itself, casting Hitler as a demigod. Yet the momentum of the organization, all of its agitation and propaganda, are being deployed today against the revolutionary proletariat, against those poor, starving folk-comrades who, in accordance with fascist custom, will tomorrow be bludgeoned with the full power of the state. How did the valiant Captain Goering put it on June 8th, before a mass meeting at the Munich Hackerbräukeller? He said:
“If the Commune10 doesn’t end up hanging you money-bags by the lamp posts some day, then you can thank us! We don’t like to protect you, but we do it because we respect those with German blood, even if it runs in lousy veins!”
This is the NSDAP of 1931! To make use of its revolutionary following in order to protect the money-bags – such is the ultimate goal of the National Socialist “freedom leaders!” That is all that is left. They cannot accomplish anything more, because they are in thrall to capitalism and to the West.
Few of us, of those who originated among the middle-classes and the petit-bourgeoisie, have recognized this until now. Thousands continue to chase after swastika flags in their vague, dull thirst for freedom, just as they once ran behind the drums of the openly reactionary associations. They still cling on to that yesterday with which we have broken.
We took the final step. We have recognized that there is only one liberation front: the front of revolutionary workers, peasants, and soldiers. We know that we cannot be helped by any Führer or party which still clings on to yesterday in some fashion, but only by a people’s revolution against the ruling system and by everything that comes along with that: popular revolution against oppression and exploitation of all kinds, revolutionary war against the tribute powers of Versailles in alliance with the Soviet Union. We have learnt to despise the “national” Führer-rabble with their mercurial opposition, with their platonic love of freedom, with their socialism which stops at their own wallets. We detest those lukewarm and half-hearted types whose “national” spirit capitulates in the face of revolution, those miserable wretches who dare not look reality in the eyes, who would rather remain servants of the West than fight for freedom alongside the Bolsheviks. For us there can be no more compromises. We no longer submit to yesterday’s “authorities” and we no longer wait for the “strong man” of tomorrow; instead, we march. Rendering the ruling exploiter-class harmless; the seizure of the factories, mines, banks, and land by the Volk; the annulment of all obligations to international finance capital; the liberation of the peasantry from their crippling debts and tax burdens; arming the masses; alliance with the Soviet Union; tearing up the peace diktats; building the free, socialist, Greater German workers’ state – these are our iron-clad, inexorable demands. Unrelenting struggle against everything which opposes these demands – this is our duty. We lead the way for our comrades, who are still being misused today as instruments of counter-revolution, and we show them the path to victory.
The fascist chiefs, the Bonzen and the capitalists, all hate us. They tremble before the growing, revolutionary united front. They whimper in their press about the burgeoning “radicalization,” about the drift of revolutionary elements from every camp into Bolshevism. They know where their mortal enemy lies. They may fight against us, may terrorize us, and may disparage us, but we have nothing more to fear. Yesterday, with all of its inhibitions, lies behind us; before us lies the revolution, and the New Germany.
1. “a.D.” after a military title in Germany is short for “außer Dienst,” meaning “off duty” or “out of commission.” It effectively indicates that a person is no longer actively serving in the military.
2. I could be mistaken, but so far as I can tell this is not originally a quote from Lenin, but is in fact a misattribution. It was a very popular slogan among National Bolshevist movements in the early 1930s, and has been resurrected among some post-WWII Third Positionist groups, but the actual, original source seems to be Karl Radek’s famous ‘Schlageter speech’.
3. Walter Stennes (b.1895 – d.1983) was a leader of the Berlin Sturmabteilung who fomented two SA revolts against the NSDAP leadership in 1930 and 1931. The second of these led Stennes and his followers to leave the SA/NSDAP and to found their own movement, the Nationalsozialistische Kampfbewegung Deutschlands (the ‘National Socialist Combat Movement of Germany’, NSKD), which for a short period was briefly allied with Otto Strasser and his followers. Franz Seldte (b.1882 – d.1947) was one of the founders and leaders of the Stahlhelm. Seldte was later made Minister of Labor in Hitler’s first cabinet in 1933, and joined the NSDAP in April of that year. The Stahlhelm would be completely incorporated into the SA by January, 1934.
4. “Bonzen” – A German word which translates into something like “bosses” or “bigwigs.” It was a popular term within the Social-Democratic, Communist, and National Socialist movements, used to describe both those in charge of the “System” (i.e. capitalists, fat-cat politicians, etc.) and those within the SPD, KPD, or NSDAP party-leaderships who were suspected of being corrupt, or of being too complacent with the political status quo. Proletarian SA members might dismiss well-paid NSDAP parliamentarians as “Bonzen,” while Social-Democrats or Communists might use the term against trade-union leaders who they believed were too much in bed with big capitalists or with bourgeois politicians.
5. German has two words for “comrade” – “Genosse,” the term used within the labor and left-wing socialist movements, and “Kamerad,” which has a much more martial connotation and which was commonly used by soldiers, Freikorps veterans, and members of Weimar-era nationalist paramilitaries. Both this article and the next use the word “Kameraden” in the original German, indicating the nationalist/militarist credentials of the authors and their intended audience.
6. “Bürger” – The German word for “citizen” or “citizenry.” It also carries connotations of middle-class/bourgeois respectability, and is probably also meant to indicate that those being criticized here (the patriotic bourgeoisie) had not themselves fought in the War or in the Freikorps campaigns. I have left the word untranslated, since it conveys this range of meanings better in the original German.
7. The “Young-Republik” was a name occasionally given to the Weimar Republic in nationalist and socialist propaganda, a way of attacking the much-hated Young Plan and of associating it inextricably with the equally-hated November Republic.
9. A reference to the Brown House, the NSDAP headquarters in Munich. The Brown House, formerly known as the Barlow Palace and located on 45 Brienner Strasse, had been purchased in May 1930 and, after considerable expensive renovations, formally opened on New Year’s Day, 1931. The opulent structure was extremely controversial within the Party, creating difficulties for the propaganda activities of the fledgling NSBO (the Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation, the Party trade union) and engendering much discomfort among members of the SA, who were already disturbed by other examples of the NSDAP’s supposed ‘bourgeoisification’ such as it decision to focus its activities on electoral participation rather than on waging revolution. The Brown House was one of the reasons for Richard Scheringer’s own disenchantment with National Socialism – temporarily allowed out of prison on a short furlough in February 1931, he was taken to meet Hitler at the Brown House by Goebbels and was shocked that such an extravagant building belonged to a supposedly revolutionary, anti-capitalist political movement. Many in the Party shared this sentiment, with the Brown House forming part of the motivation behind Walter Stennes’s second SA revolt against the NSDAP leadership in March 1931.