Black propaganda from the Communist Party of Germany, aimed at winning over disillusioned members of the SA
The explosive growth in popularity of National Socialism throughout Germany in 1930 proved particularly challenging for German Communism, which found itself suddenly competing with a highly-organized, well-disciplined opponent whose espoused “social-radicalism” seemed to have a troubling level of appeal even among certain segments of the urban proletariat. A key component in the Comintern’s solution to the rising challenge of National Socialism was its ‘Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’, first published in national Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) daily Die Rote Fahn on August 24, 1930, and deliberately intended to steal some of the NSDAP’s thunder by appropriating nationalist language and sentiment for the cause of Marxism-Leninism. Translated into practical party work, the new ‘National and Social’ policy line was primarily employed by Communists in the field of propaganda, particularly through organizations and publications intended to appeal to nationalists by focusing on certain attractive commonalities (i.e. a shared culture of militarism, or a hatred of the Young Plan) which could then be gradually redefined to participants in the framework of a Stalinist ideological worldview. Another favored KPD tactic during this period involved the use of demoralizing ‘black propaganda’, particularly what historian Timothy Brown calls ‘Zersetzungsschriften’ – ‘decomposition tracts’. These were leaflets, flyers, and newsletters written and produced by Communist propagandists but intended to give the impression that they were actually authored by an ‘opposition movement’ of disgruntled and disillusioned National Socialists within the NSDAP. Usually Communist Zersetzung were targeted at the Sturmabteilung (SA, Stormtroopers), which had the largest share of the NSDAP’s proletarian membership and hence, for the KPD, the greatest revolutionary potential. Zersetzung were full of complaints from supposedly ‘real’ Stormtroopers pointing out ideological hypocrisy within the party, alleging financial or racial impropriety on the part of local or national leaders, and encouraging a more sympathetic view of the ‘Reds’ and their ideas. The translated document below, a four-page newsletter titled Nation und Revolution, is an example of an SA-targeted Communist Zersetzungsschrift. Although undated and unnumbered, it was probably produced in mid-1931 and seems to have been distributed in the Stuttgart area. It covers most of the themes common to this kind of propaganda writing, condensing core arguments from the 1930 ‘National and Social’ programme and combining them with grumbling allegations about SA “Bonzen” (bigwigs) and the NSDAP’s inability to truly live up to the promises of its anticapitalist economic ideology.
Nation and Revolution
An anonymous SA propaganda newsletter,
clandestinely produced by the Communist Party of Germany
Hitler’s Betrayal of Nationalism!
Part II:1 The South Tyrolean Question and Hitler’s despicable renunciation of the Germans in South Tyrol are common knowledge. One would be correct in pointing out that the same policy of renunciation to which the Germans in South Tyrol are falling victim today could be invoked tomorrow against the Germans in Alsace, Upper Silesia, Czechoslovakia, etc.2 And in point of fact, Hitler has commenced one retreat after another along these lines. In his August 1930 letter to the French politician Gustave Hervé3 he wrote:
“I can assure you most emphatically, the movement which I represent has no intention of extending a helping hand to any course of action that appears only too likely to prevent the necessary balance of power from being established in Europe, thereby jeopardizing a much-needed peace among European nations! … The legally-binding character of private debts, regardless of the reason for which they were accrued, is always unequivocally clear… It (Germany) fulfills, and will also in future earnestly and faithfully fulfill, its private commercial debt obligations to the world.”
Hitler is openly stating here that he has absolutely no intention of doing anything at all about amending Germany’s monumental private debts to the Versailles powers. How could it be otherwise, when he is so keen upon the discourse of private ownership? The utter impracticality of national liberation without a preceding or concurrent socialist revolution is demonstrated here in Hitler’s shiftless babbling.
And what of Hitler’s fight against the “November Democracy’s policy of fulfillment,” which constitutes the be-all and end-all of National Socialist propaganda in its entirety? How would he behave in practice, if he were serious about this fight? In addition to refusing to make any reparations payments, he would then primarily need to ensure via his representatives in the state and municipal governments that the raising of funds for reparations would be made impossible, i.e. through the systematic sabotage of government measures; calls for a tax strike; struggling for improved wages, salaries, and bread; and ensuring all property goes to the German Volk in accordance with the maxim: “Bread first, then reparations!”
But what do Frick and Franzen and their colleagues actually do within the municipalities?4 – Even before he took office, Frick could think of nothing better to do than to demand the stabilization of Thuringia’s budget, which had been ruined as a result of reparations payments. The funds to carry out this stabilization could only be raised through new, rigorous taxes and by fresh cuts in social spending. The “blessings” of the Frick government have also failed accordingly. Here are just a few of them.
The introduction of a negro-tax;5 a 6% increase in the tax on housing rent, raising peacetime rents by 120 to 126 per cent; an increase on the trade tax by 750,000 Marks and the land tax by 650,000 Marks; ruthless downsizing, particularly of teachers; a very strict reduction of expenditure for cultural purposes; robbing the benefits of the poorest of the poor, etc. etc. – Bread first, then reparations!?
Frick also banned the local branch of the Reichsbanner6 in Gera, and cited the law implementing the Versailles Treaty as justification! – “Struggle against Versailles”!?
“National Socialism!” What a mockery coming from the lips of people who refuse to make common cause with Soviet Russia, the sole enemy of the Western Powers, but who instead involve themselves in fawning before the powers of Versailles!
What a mockery of those masses who believe that they can find liberation from the yoke of international capitalism in the symbol of the swastika!
No! Never, ever will Hitler be ready to lead the struggle for the national and social liberation of the German Volk, because his goal leads neither to nationalism nor to socialism. It does not signify a “free socialist Germany,” but instead: “Fascist dictatorship.”
* * *
Are We Still a Workers’ Party?
An unemployed SA man has asked us to include the following account:
On a Sunday morning in the western part of the city I encountered 2 luxury automobiles just on their way to the “better part of town.” Fur coats, pearl necklaces, fat cigars, etc. were all on display. I was just wondering whether the one fat fellow with the greasy face also knew how it might feel to have to work with a growling stomach, when another auto pulled up alongside in which was sitting a rather unlikeable party-member with whom I am personally familiar – and then the fat pig who I would have enjoyed duffing up, and along with him the whole rest of the gang, all raised their hands in salute to Hitler and cried, “Heil!” The party-member saluted back enthusiastically. So, such parasites also greet each other with the Hitler salute! These are supposed to be my comrades – the comrades of an unemployed SA man who, out of fervent love for his Fatherland, does his duty day-in, day-out in the belief of a Third Reich of socialism.
As our great Führer Hitler said recently in Stuttgart: the welfare of the Volk as a whole must take precedence over the welfare of the individual! How does the rhyme go? Unemployed with us – parasites with them.
* * *
Notes on the Gau Party Conference7
The fighting spirit of the SA was riddled with strong doubts about the correctness of Hitler’s policy. Below we offer a missive from an SA man who took part in the procession:
The leader of Sturm 27 in the Calw district commented bitterly that he no longer believed in the Third Reich at all.
Pg. Dreher’s8 incitement of the SS against Scheringer9 was reflected in a threat from an SS man that Scheringer had better watch out – if he should ever dare come to Ulm.
A 2½ hour political meeting took place at 12 Göthestrasse, to which only 12 ‘gentlemen’ from the supreme party and SA leaderships were admitted. The simple SA recruit has no voice, he has only to obey.
Any form of discussion with political opponents was strictly prohibited. (!)
The proletarian residential districts of Heslach and Ostheim were avoided during the propaganda march. Reasons unknown!
“We are revolutionary…” party-comrade Dreher called out to us at the Gau Conference, and we answered: “Yes, we are revolutionary.” – Yet it is because we are revolutionary that we are fighting against the bureaucratized party-leadership which has betrayed the German Revolution. It is because we are in favor of the revolutionary destruction of the Young Plan that we fight against Hitler, who abandoned the German Volk to French imperialism when he unequivocally acknowledged the legally-binding nature of the Young Tribute in his October 1930 letter to Hervé, thus aligning himself with the fulfillment politicians of the November parties. In a well-paid interview with Karl von Wiegand,10 he stressed to the pan-Jewish [alljüdischen] Hearst Press that he will “painstakingly fulfill every liability assumed,” and meekly begged for a “relaxation of the provisions of the Young Plan.” Because Hitler decided in favor of the external Young Plan, Herr Frick in Thuringia and Herr Franzen in Braunschweig implemented the internal Young Plan (we can skip over any further explanations from this old SA man’s letter, since the most significant have already been stated in our first article)… In order to become a respectable coalition partner, Hitler swears a thousand oaths as to the legality of the movement, pledges himself to “legal struggle on the basis of the Weimar constitution” (!), sends Captain Göring to Rome in order to induce German Catholicism into accepting him into the Brüning government of ongoing high treason against the vital interests of the German Volk; in short: Hitler binds himself with yesterday’s powers, and thereby stabs the revolutionary German movement in the back.
Because we upstanding soldiers of revolution do not wish to be the mercenaries11 of international and national exploitation, we recognize which side of the barricades we will need to stand on when the productive German Volk, under the storm-banner of socialist revolution, crusade for their national and social liberation against the slavery and exploitation of the Young Plan.
* * *
“Striking” Quotations from our Great “Leaders”
Pg. Dr. Feder to Dingeldey, representative of the ultracapitalist German People’s Party:12
“One ought to finally stop assuming any socialist tendencies on the part of the National Socialists. The NSDAP stands for private property, as well as for the preservation of private inheritance rights.”
Captain Wagner, the economic “specialist”:13
“We do not wish to eliminate the capitalist economy, we want to salvage from it what can be salvaged.”
The central point of the programme:
“The breaking of interest-slavery is the heart of National Socialism.”
On that subject, see Goebbels’s remark to Scheringer:14
“What Feder writes in his programme about the breaking of interest-slavery is, of course, nonsense. The only thing that will end up broken is anyone forced to read it. If I had founded the party, I would not have drawn up a programme at all.”
Pg. Dr. Feder himself said on the problem of interest-slavery:
“Indeed, please do not believe that we can eliminate the respectable (!!) private banker and can do without his cooperation.”
To be continued.
* * *
Which Path Are You Taking?
with Young-Hitler into a coalition party, or with the proletariat towards the People’s Revolution?
Make Your Decision!
* * *
“Advance Into Red Heslach?”
was the slogan with which our troop leaders sought to conquer Heslach on Thursday evening. They did not quite pull this off. The entire action, which in reality was merely the inspiration of a few “office generals” who did not have the courage to march themselves, was a singular failure for the idea of National Socialism! – For seldom has rejection on the part of the population been so unanimous as it was here. This is not the least due to the provocative manner in which this failure of a march was announced and carried out. I do not understand what our NS-Kurier15 editors are thinking when they now attempt to retroactively convince their readers that the SA merely wanted to take a completely harmless stroll through a markedly “Red” working-class district, when days before they were writing about a “storm” on Red Heslach and that practical preparations were being focused above all on organizing groups equipped with certain ‘things’! And thus it was accordingly announced, in order to calm the nervous, excited, and inflamed mood of the SA, that adequate protection would be provided by the police! – Each SA man had been sufficiently informed by his Sturmführer that this was to be a serious test of violence! That was the state of things. – For an honest fighter such dishonesty is truly disgusting.
Now, to the march itself! – Everyone was probably trembling internally as to how things might turn out. It was all the more startling for us when, at the Marienplatz, several comrades [Kameraden] from the Red Front attempted in a comradely fashion to bring Scheringer’s letter to us and to discuss it with us. To be honest, I would have preferred this kind of discussion to that which our bigwigs [Bonzen] ordered us to have! Just as during the Gau Conference, we had orders to reject any discussion because it would be merely an attempt to provoke; I did not have the impression that this was simply an attempt at provocation! The fact that some SA comrades immediately responded instead with beatings and stabbings can only be attributed to the mindless blood-baiting pushed day in, day out by our leaders and by the party press, who cannot do enough to slander the working population as ‘sub-humans’ and as ‘rabble’. Let that be made clear here, for a start!
In the course of all this, one could see the entire population of Heslach demonstrating their disapproval; office-workers, small traders, workers, many still in their workwear, all stood on the sidewalks and expressed their contempt so energetically “that for many a shiver of fear probably ran down their backs.” Some SA comrades may well have asked the question, as I did: “Why do these people insult us as ‘servants of capital’ and as ‘fascist murderers’, these people whose starving faces and worn-down hands demonstrate that they have nothing in common with that sub-humanity about which we are always told?” Afterwards I spoke with a worker on these questions, and his explanations roused some doubts in me. I resolved that I would no longer allow myself to be used as a whipping boy, but that I would listen to what my working folk-comrades from the Reds have to say to me; I hope that someday we can jointly consider making a revolutionary advance to where the parasites and beneficiaries of today’s system perch, an advance into the upscale residential areas and the financial district!
This letter from an SA man shows us that, in spite of all the instigation, the fronts are forming: Over there the front of Young Plan exploiters and their advocates; over here the victorious peoples’ front against Young Exploitation and Capitalist Dictatorship!
1. The inclusion of these words at the beginning of the first article suggests that this is the second in a multi-part series on “Hitler’s Betrayal of Nationalism,” with the first section likely appearing in the previous issue of Nation und Revolution. Unfortunately I was not able to locate any other copies of the newsletter, so I cannot reproduce the entirety of this series in full. As this section of the article mainly seems to repeat arguments from the KPD’s ‘Programmatic Statement for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’, the previous article probably had similar content.
2. One of Hitler’s more controversial positions was his willingness to renounce Pan-German claims upon South Tyrol, a region of German-Austria ceded to Italy as part of the division of the spoils of war following WWI. The population of South Tyrol was around 90% ethnic-German, and their fate became a cause célèbre among nationalists in both Austria and Germany post-WWI, who incorporated the reclamation of the area into their territorial demands. Anti-Italian sentiment soon also became a motivating factor for many of those championing the South Tyrolean cause, particularly after the Fascist government in the early 1920s started enforcing a campaign of ‘Italianization’ upon the local population – changing place names, favoring ethnic-Italians in official appointments, forcing schools to teach only in Italian, removing German monuments and institutions, etc. Hitler’s stance that Germany should relinquish its claim over the area (or at the very least that the NSDAP should completely avoid campaigning on the issue) thus created some quite bitter animosity within the völkisch movement, with many viewing his position as a betrayal of the German Volk for purposes of Realpolitik. Marxists also used the topic as a wedge issue with which to divide the NSDAP, alleging that Hitler’s primary motivation was actually secret funding coming from the Italian government. In reality Hitler’s main concern was to secure a future military alliance between Germany and Fascist Italy; a strong stance on South Tyrol would only alienate the Italians and might potentially lead to bloodshed, while cooperation on South Tyrol could conversely act as a bridge to peace between the two nations.
3. Gustave Hervé (b.1871 – d.1944) was a French socialist politician. Beginning as a leading figure within the French Socialist Party’s radical wing, Hervé’s syndicalist leanings and growing patriotism led him during the Great War down a nationalist path and into advocacy for a form of French National Socialism. Although a strong public supporter of Mussolini, Hervé tended to be more cautious about Hitler and German National Socialism; referenced here is a letter which he wrote to Hitler in 1930 enquiring as to the NSDAP leader’s stance on a French-German military alliance. Hitler’s response, which this article quotes from, appeared in the October 26 edition of the Völkischer Beobachter.
4. Wilhelm Frick (b.1877 – d.1946) was a trained lawyer and state official. He first joined the NSDAP in 1925, although he had actively worked for the NS movement earlier than that, including as a participant in the 1923 Bürgerbräukeller Putsch. In January 1930 Frick was appointed Interior Minister and Minister of Education in Thuringia’s ‘Baum-Frick’ cabinet, the first state government in Weimar Germany to include the NSDAP, thus also making Frick the first National Socialist government minister. Anton Franzen (b.1896 – d.1968) was likewise a trained lawyer, who also worked as a district judge; he joined the NSDAP in 1928. Franzen became Minister of the Interior in the Brunswick Free State’s ‘Küchental’ cabinet in September 1930, part of another coalition government between the NSDAP and a number of right-wing parties. The actions of Frick and Franzen as the NSDAP’s first ministerial representatives, and their participation in coalitions with ‘bourgeois’ center-right parties, created considerable fodder for the Marxist press and for disaffected ‘left-wing’ National Socialists.
5. “Negro-tax” (“Negersteuer” in German) was the informal, mocking name given by political opponents to a taxation proposal put forward by Frick shortly after his entry into the Thuringian government in January 1930. Frick’s proposal effectively constituted a flat-rate poll tax that would apply to every Thuringian citizen who was eligible to vote. Its name derived from detractors’ comparisons between the ‘Negro-tax’ and the tax practices in Germany’s colonial administrations, where the local African populations had been taxed on a similar universal, flat-rate basis.
6. The Reichsbanner was founded on February 22, 1924, as a “self-defence organization” (i.e., paramilitary) working in the interests of the Weimar Republic and German democracy. Founding members included the Social-Democratic Party, the center-left German Democratic Party, the Catholic/centrist Centre Party, and the ‘free’ (i.e., socialist) trade-unions. The organization was so heavily dominated by Social-Democrats, however, that it was commonly regarded as being the SPD’s paramilitary wing. The reference to it here was probably not intended to be sympathetic, since this was the era of “social-fascism” – it was not uncommon in this period for German Communists to accuse Reichsbanner members of being in league with the police, of actively helping capitalist authorities pursue “open fascist terror” on behalf of the “social-fascist” Social-Democrats. The reference to the Reichsbanner is instead probably intended more to highlight Frick’s alleged hypocrisy in invoking legislation relating to the Versailles Peace Treaty.
7. Various location references throughout Nation und Revolution (i.e., mentions of Calw, Ulm, etc.) suggest that it was most likely distributed in Stuttgart, which was part of NSDAP administrative division ‘Gau Württemberg-Hohenzollern’. The NSDAP Gau Party Conference (Gauparteitag) for Württemberg-Hohenzollern in 1931 was held in Stuttgart on 17th May.
8. “Pg.” is short for “Parteigenosse,” i.e. “party-comrade” in English. The letters “Pg.” before a person’s name in a document indicate that they are an NSDAP member (Marxist parties also apparently used this convention; the National Socialists appropriated it from them). “Pg. Dreher” is Wilhelm Dreher (b.1892 – d.1969), a former Social-Democrat and trade-union official who left the SPD for the NSDAP in 1923. After the NSDAP’s refounding in 1925 following its post-putsch ban, Dreher established the party’s Ulm local branch and served as its Ortsgruppenführer. He entered the Reichstag in 1928 and the Ulm municipal council in 1931, acting as chair of the NSDAP electoral group. He also joined the SS in 1930. Dreher’s left-wing background (he was a unionist, a participant in the Kiel Sailors’ Revolt which triggered the November Revolution in 1918, and had also served as chairman of the Ulm Works Council for several years) made him a popular speaker at NSDAP events. He was often paired alongside Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia onstage, in order to demonstrate to audiences the NSDAP’s supposed lack of class pretensions.
9. Richard Scheringer (b.1904 – d.1986) was a young army officer, a member of the 5th Artillery Regiment in Ulm, who famously stood trial in Sept.-Oct. 1930 on the charge of plotting to commit high treason. He and his two co-defendants (Hanns Ludin and Hans Wendt) had forged links with the NSDAP and had been clandestinely distributing nationalist propaganda among members of the military, encouraging them to disobey their orders and to participate in the overthrow of the Weimar system in the event of a nationalist revolution. After his conviction and imprisonment, Scheringer very famously converted to communism, with a letter to this effect read out on his behalf in the Reichstag on 18 March 1931 by a member of the KPD; in it, he praised German Communism for its “militarization of the entire working people and for a prepared and militant German Red Army.” He also lent his name to KPD propaganda work directed at winning over nationalists and members of the Reichswehr to the Communist Party. Scheringer’s “betrayal” made him a very unpopular figure among nationalists. Despite this, he was actually pardoned and released by President von Hindenburg in 1933, the result of lobbying on his behalf by Hanns Ludin (who had since become a leading member of the SA) and Colonel von Reichenau. Scheringer managed to survive the Third Reich, largely with the help of Ludin’s protection.
10. Karl Henry von Wiegand (b.1874 – d.1961) was an American journalist for United Press and Hearst Press. Supposedly he was the first and last American journalist to interview Hitler – his first interview took place on 12-13 November 1922 (Hitler was referred to in it as the “German Mussolini”), and the last on 9 June 1940.
11. The word used in the original German here is “Landsknechte.” The Landsknecht were bands of well-trained mercenary fighters employed during the period of the Holy Roman Empire.
12. Meant here is Eduard Dingeldey (b.1886 – d.1942), a lawyer and a politician for the center-right German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei, DVP). From 1930 Dingeldey was the leader of the DVP parliamentary group in the German Reichstag.
13. “Wagner” is most likely a misspelling of “Wagener,” a reference to Otto Wagener, the former SA Chief of Staff (Oct. 1929 – Dec. 1930) who from January 1931 to September 1932 was head of the NSDAP’s Wirtschaftspolitische Abteilung (WPA, Economic Policy Department), and who remained one of the party’s leading economics experts until losing his positions in June 1933 following a fall from grace. The mention of Wagener here, alongside the multiple references to Scheringer throughout the newsletter, suggest that the publication of this document probably dates to sometime in early-to-mid 1931.
14. Goebbels supposedly said these words to Scheringer in February 1931, after Scheringer was temporarily allowed out of prison on a short furlough and taken by Goebbels to meet Hitler at the Brown House in Munich (this was before Scheringer’s public conversion to Marxism-Leninism, of course). Other accounts of the story have it that Scheringer presented Goebbels with a questionnaire seeking clear answers on various topics, and Goebbels filled it out with various mocking and humorous responses, including that quoted here. Whatever the reality, Scheringer was unimpressed with what he heard and saw, and the NSDAP’s apparent lack of sufficient commitment to the “social question” helped inspire his decision to move to the Communist camp.
15. The NS-Kurier was the NSDAP newspaper for the city of Stuttgart and for Gau Württemberg-Hohenzollern. The newspaper was originally founded in 1930; it folded in 1945.
How are things going with you as of late? I apologize for not being able to reply to this ARPLAN Post sooner. I felt there is something herein that happens to be relevant to my own research.
But where do I even begin with this? Even though I would prefer not picking anyone’s side here, I have to admit that there may be some kernel of truth to these anonymous testimonies, and I can see why the KPD would be interested in them. The KPD wanted to expose the hypocrisy of the Hitlerists inside of the NSDAP because these SA men had been suffering from a “crisis of faith” in the Hitlerists ability to further the aims of Pan-Germanic Socialism. They appealed to the German people in order to gain the sympathies of those same SA men, who would have been interested in confronting the Hitlerists regarding those compromises. At the same time, there is reasons for us to doubt the KPD’s integrity on whether they were correct that these compromises are necessary part of the NSDAP’s goal of taking over the German Reich.
The question here is not a matter of who is right or wrong, good or evil here because there is a real possibility that some of these statements had been taken out of context. As you had pointed out in your first Translator’s Note, we are not being told the full picture about what is being conveyed here. I doubt we can frame either the KPD or the NSDAP on any conceivable moral scale here because we are dealing with the problems of Kapital and Schuld as the products of a specific financial system. In fact, I would not be surprised if the SA term “Das System (The System)” was actually referring to the same financial system that not only existed in the Weimar Republic, but was even allowed to continue operating by the Hitlerists on later decisions ranging from the “MEFO Bills” to the “Four-Year Plan.” Let’s look at the two most relevant pieces of evidence in this ARPLAN Post that are related to my own research:
What convinced the KPD that the NSDAP was going to advocate for a “Poll Tax” and even a “Tax Strike” at the same time? What compelled the KPD to believe that the NSDAP was going to “raise taxes” and “increase spending” for war reparations, among other things?
And who were those SA men driving the “2 luxury automobiles” in “Are We Still a Workers’ Party? Where did they obtain their “fur coats, pearl necklaces, fat cigars?” What are the odds that they were probably offered to them as gifts? Is it wrong for accept gifts from anyone?
I bring these questions to your attention, Bogumil, because I can see anyone else being in the positions that the KPD and NSDAP have found themselves here. Moreover, I can even reapply these observations of mine to post-1945 contexts and countries that had no connections or relationship whatsoever with the KPD, NSDAP and everyone involved here.